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Halifax sex assault acquittal leads to calls for change in taxi licensing

Click to play video: 'Regional councillors calling for transferring of taxi licensing responsibility' Regional councillors calling for transferring of taxi licensing responsibility
WATCH ABOVE: A motion by Councillor Waye Mason calls for a review into the scope of responsibility the Appeals Committee has in appeals of taxi licensing decisions. Alexa MacLean reports – Mar 6, 2017

A motion to review whether Halifax regional councillors should be making decisions based on complex legal cases, is expected to be proposed during Tuesday’s meeting.

READ MORE: Halifax cabbie found not guilty of sexually assaulting woman who was drunk

“It’s a lot different determining whether somebody hasn’t cut their grass in a few months and whether somebody should be in a position where public safety could be harmed,” said Mayor Mike Savage, speaking to the responsibility that falls on councillors sitting on the Standing Committees of Council Appeals.

The motion is being presented by Councillor Waye Mason and includes a call for an investigation by city staff into the responsibility of taxi licensing appeals.

“I’ve talked to Councillor Mason about it and we’ve been thinking over the last little while about how do we bring something forward. He’s come up with a couple iterations of this and I think it’s at the very least worthwhile to take it to the next step and I think we can find a better way to do it,” Mayor Savage said.

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The motion comes less than a week after the acquittal of former taxi driver, Bassam Al-Rawi.

Al-Rawi was found not guilty of sexual assault charges laid against him by Halifax Regional Police.

READ MORE: Any appeal of NS cab driver acquittal to be based on law, not protests: Crown

He was charged after an officer found a young woman passed out and partially naked in his taxi in 2015.

Al-Rawi’s license was originally suspended by the municipality in May 2015, but the appeals standing committee voted to reinstate it with conditions in August 2015.

Councillor Matt Whitman was the chair of the committee during that time.

“If you stray too far from Canadian principals such as innocent until proven guilty, you can really get yourself in trouble,” said Whitman, in response to the committee’s decisions to reinstate Al-Rawi’s licence.

“So in this case, councillors make decisions based on legal information, based on the information you have at the time, it can be controversial.”

Based on the potential for legal ramifications and concern regarding the impact on public safety, the motion calls for potentially transferring licence review responsibility to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, or to the new tribunal for licence appeals involving lawyers.

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READ MORE: ‘Not going to stand for this’: Group pens letters for Halifax judge’s removal

It’s a move Whitman said would be very helpful to those on the committee.

“I’ve never been to law school, I’m not a judge, I make the best decisions based on the information I have at the time. And then when the public gets information at a later date, that wasn’t available to the councillors at the time, it really puts us in a tough spot,” he said.

The motion is expected to be presented to council on Tuesday.

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