In a special sitting of the Appeals Standing Committee on Tuesday, Halifax councillors were given a presentation by Halifax Regional Police victims services caseworker Angela Jeffrey-Haynes about how to better accommodate victims during taxi license appeals involving sexual assault charges.
“Originally I’d attended with someone who had to come to appeals with regards to accusations made against a cab driver. And so what I had done was I provided her support and was present,” Jeffrey Haynes said. “During that process there was some observations that I had which I thought would be helpful to share with the appeals committee.”
She said she wrote a letter to the committee outlining some of her observations and was invited to come back to formally present them to the councillors.
“A lot of times we’re just looking at the information brought to us by staff in regards to whats been laid by police. Very rarely we see the victims perspective,” said District 2 Coun. David Hendsbee.
“The question is, how do we bring that into the process or should we even bother at all? Should that be left to the courts?”
Hendsbee brought up the notion of looking into adopting a “zero-tolerance policy” that would prevent drivers from getting their licence back before being acquitted. While the current HRM policy dictates that a taxi driver will automatically have their license suspended after police inform the municipality of a sexual assault charge, they still have the opportunity to appeal the suspension before the case makes its way through the courts. This was the case in the high-profile sexual assault trial of former Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi.
“I find right now that we’re kind of in a semi-quasi judicial process,” Hendsbee said.
“How can we override the provincial court process in regards to seeking justice? We’re more of an administrative function of a licensing body, not to find truth in any of the accusations made by a perpetrator or the victim.”
A spokesperson with the municipality tells Global News that while victims are in no way required to attending the appeal hearing, they are always notified and given the option to speak. However, this rarely happens and raises the question of whether or not the Appeals Standing Committee is the appropriate venue for a potentially traumatic experience.
“All I can comment on is the fact that it is very challenging and very difficult when victims do come forward to present in that kind of space,” Jeffrey-Haynes said.
“I know of a number of them who had the opportunity to come in and refused because of the anxiety and fear and the natural, I think, reaction for someone who’s had that kind of discussion or being put on the spot in that way.”
A staff report looking into the responsibilities and best practices for the committee is due back this summer.