Protesters of Halifax cab driver’s acquittal call for justice for sex assault victims
A small, but mighty group of Haligonians let their voices be heard outside Halifax City Hall on Wednesday afternoon, ringing a bell and howling as a way to raise awareness about sexual violence.
“If it doesn’t affect us personally, it affects our collective consciousness between Rehtaeh Parsons and residential schools and missing and murdered Indigenous women, Bishop Lahey, this is something that if we’re not personally triggered, we’re collectively triggered,” said Chelsea Fougere, protest organizer.
The group is concerned about a recent decision by Judge Gregory Lenehan to acquit taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi of sexually assaulting a female passenger in May 2015.
Protesters say they want to see the judge removed from the bench and won’t stop protesting until Al-Rawi is behind bars.
“Judge Gregory Lenehan sent a message to all of us that sexual violence is okay and it isn’t,” Fougere said.
“It’s an open and shut case. No one is really debating whether or not he’s guilty aside from the judge.”
Late Tuesday, the crown confirmed they will be appealing Lenehan’s ruling.
“The six grounds of appeal that we’ve identified all focus on the issue of consent and how the trial judge dealt with that issue in his decision,” said Crown attorney Jennifer MacLellan.
A panel of three judges will hear arguments from both sides and could either determine Al-Rawi is guilty, that a new trial be ordered or throw the case out entirely.
The province has announced that beginning this summer, they will be auditing police to ensure they have the capability to investigate sexual assault cases. The government also plans to hire two specialized prosecutors and open a new Domestic Violence Court in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Despite the planned changes to the way officials respond to cases of sexual assaults, advocates say there have been a lot of empty promises and will believe the changes when they see them.
“It takes a brave woman to come forward and to admit that a sexual assault has happened and she’s put through a long journey and without support from the justice system, from the province, it’s a sad story and it’s time that stops,” said Candace Slater, Pictou Country Women’s Resource and Sexual Assault Centre.
“So, put your money where your mouth is, that’s what I say.”
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