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Crime

Complainant’s former roommate testifies in Al-Rawi sexual assault case

WATCH ABOVE: A former Halifax cab driver’s high profile sexual assault trial continued in provincial court. In May 2015, a woman was found unconscious and half-naked in the back of Bassam Al-Rawi’s taxi. On Tuesday, two witnesses who were with the complainant that night testified on the events leading up to the incident. Elizabeth McSheffrey reports.

The Crown called four witnesses to the stand on Tuesday as it concluded its seventh day of evidence against Bassam Al-Rawi, a former Halifax cab driver accused of sexual assault.

Among them were the alleged victim’s roommate at the time and that woman’s partner. Both of them were with the complainant in the hours leading up to the moment she was found in the back of Al-Rawi’s cab unconscious, naked from the waist down on May 23, 2015.

The witnesses, who can’t be named under a publication ban that protects the complainant, described a night of drinking in downtown Halifax that ended at Boomer’s Lounge on Grafton Street.

READ MORE: DNA expert testifies as Bassam Al-Rawi’s sexual assault trial resumes

Both Crown lawyers Carla Ball and Jennifer MacLellan and Al-Rawi’s lawyer, Ian Hutchison, questioned the pair on how much they had all had to drink, where they went, and how the complainant’s conduct changed over time.

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They testified that the young woman was intoxicated, argumentative and upset by the time she left the bar around 12:30 a.m. and walked off on her own. The male said that the complainant was “a little incoherent” and “not making proper decisions.”

Their collective departure from the bar is captured on security footage that was played repeatedly in court, as lawyers compiled a timeline of events and behaviour. The defence repeatedly asked what kind of interactions the complainant had with strangers outside the bar — a line of questioning to which the Crown objected.

Al-Rawi was initially acquitted of sexual assault in this case, as a judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to conclude the complainant did not consent to whatever took place in his cab. That ruling generated significant media attention, and was eventually overturned in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

“We’re starting over again and it’s a new trial and we have to prove our case against him,” MacLellan told Global News outside the courtroom. “We’re on day seven of our evidence and really I’m not in a position to say how much longer things are going to take.”

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The Crown also called on RCMP Const. Shelly Lee Mews, a member of the force’s sexual assault investigation team. She testified on Tuesday that she collected the complainant’s clothing around 5 a.m. on May 23, and described the clothing as “damp.”

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The nurse who helped conduct the sexual assault exam on the alleged victim testified as well, describing the kinds of tests that were performed at the hospital.

READ MORE: Former Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi will face 2nd sexual assault trial

The retrial has already heard from forensic scientist and DNA expert, who testified on the results of samples taken from both Al-Rawi and the complainant shortly after the incident took place.

Swabs taken from Al-Rawi’s palm, Martin Westecott told the courtroom on Monday, generated at least four DNA profiles, but the samples weren’t large enough to match them with anyone. The complainant’s underwear sample, similarly, was insufficient for DNA testing.

But the lip swab, he explained, revealed two distinct DNA profiles — one male and one female. The female DNA made up the bulk of the sample, and Westecott said he couldn’t rule out the complainant as its source.

The retrial is scheduled to continue throughout the week.

Al-Rawi faces a second sexual assault charged related to a 2012 incident in his cab, which will be heard in Supreme Court at a later date.