The frustration and concern around the acquittal of a Halifax taxi driver accused of sexual assault made it to the House of Common Wednesday.
Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose called the manner in which Judge Gregory Lenehan’s dismissed the charges against Bassam Al-Rawi “disturbing,” and called for action from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Al-Rawi was charged with sexual assault after a Halifax Regional Police officer found a young woman naked from the breasts down and unconscious in the back of his cab in May 2015. The passenger, a woman in her 20s, testified she could not remember the events leading up to her getting into the taxi because she was intoxicated.
“Clearly a drunk can consent,” Lenehan said when delivering his oral decision, first reported by Metro Halifax.
The wording has lead to widespread protests and calls for Lenehan’s removal from the bench, and an appeal by the Nova Scotia Crown.
“The circumstances are disturbing,” Ambrose said. “And incredibly, the judge ruled that ‘clearly a drunk can consent.’ Now countless legal experts have pointed out the mistakes in this judgement.”
“I’ve introduced a very common sense bill to make sure that judges aren’t making basic errors or even worse, painful comments that make victims think twice of ever pursuing justice,” Ambrose said.
“Will the prime minister support moving my bill to committee this week and help restore confidence in our justice system for victims of sexual assault?”
Trudeau agreed to discuss the member’s bill, adding it’s important victims of sexual violence are “treated with respect and compassion.”
“We need to make sure that we’re doing a much better job than we are right now and that’s why I look forward for parliamentarians having an opportunity to discuss ways in which we’re going to be able to improve it, including the members bill as it goes to committee,” Trudeau said.
MPs voted unanimously in favour of the bill, and so it is moving forward to committee.
The Nova Scotia government announced Tuesday the addition of two new special prosecutors to the Public Prosecution Service who will be focused on sexual assault cases.
In addition, an audit of police services will be conducted to ensure investigators are properly trained and a plan to partner with the federal government to offer free legal advice to victims of sexual violence.