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Sex assault survivors deserve ‘respect, compassion’ Trudeau says in wake of Halifax taxi driver’s acquittal

Ambrose discusses Halifax taxi driver acquitted of sexual assault
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said sexual assault survivors need to be treated with “respect” and “compassion” especially while seeking justice.

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.

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

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.

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READ MORE: Crown appeals verdict in Halifax taxi sexual assault case

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.

READ MORE: Rona Ambrose introduces bill calling for judges to receive training on sex assault cases

“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.

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MPs voted unanimously in favour of the bill, and so it is moving forward to committee.

READ MORE: NS justice system in the spotlight, amid low rate of sexual assault cases leading to charges

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.