An independent review into a Nova Scotia judge who controversially said a “drunk can consent” in a sexual assault ruling has dismissed all formal complaints regarding his conduct.
The Nova Scotia Judicial Council received 121 written complaints between March and May 2017, after Judge Gregory Lenehan acquitted a Halifax taxi driver of sexually assaulting a female passenger. The complaints were made by individuals and organizations from across the province and the country. The review committee pointed out that 38 per cent of those 121 complaints were based on some form of template.
“These complaints essentially alleged that Judge Lenehan was out of touch with female victims of sexual assault,” the committee noted.
In his original decision, Lenehan ruled that the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainant didn’t consent to sexual activity with the cab driver, Bassam Al-Rawi.
“Clearly, a drunk can consent,” Lenehan said as part of the ruling.
The decision and the phrase Lenehan used sparked a backlash, with protesters taking to the streets in Halifax, groups calling for the judge’s removal, and provincial politicians voicing their disapproval of the judge’s comments.
Some of the complaints filed with the Nova Scotia Judicial Council referenced an incident in October 2015, when Lenehan asked a breastfeeding mother to leave his courtroom. According to the review committee, the complainants said that incident, among others, supported “the suggestion that Judge Lenehan had a ‘track record’ of gender bias.”
But in its decision, the review committee said that the threshold for finding judicial misconduct is high and that after reviewing the trial transcript and decision in the Al-Rawi case, the three-member panel found no evidence of “impermissible reasoning or bias.”
WATCH: 121 complaints dismissed against Nova Scotia judge
“While this Review Committee has concluded that the choice of certain language by Judge Lenehan in Al-Rawi and in the breast-feeding incident may have benefited from more careful and contextual reflection, it would be dangerous and wrong to equate this with judicial misconduct,” the committee’s decision read.
The review committee consisted of three members of the Judicial Council: Provincial Court Judge Frank Hoskins, appointed by the Nova Scotia Provincial Judges’ Association; Katherine Fierlbeck, appointed by the Attorney General, and Daren Baxter, appointed by the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.
On Jan. 31, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Al-Rawi.
In a unanimous decision, the court of appeal said Lenehan discounted the “substantial body of circumstantial evidence of lack of consent or capacity to consent.”
It also noted that the comment, “Clearly, a drunk can consent,” is legally correct but that the judge erred in law when he equated incapacity only with unconsciousness.
WATCH: Protests in Halifax over Judge Gregory Lenehan’s sexual assault decision
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