Former Halifax cab driver Bassam Al-Rawi testified for the first time in court Wednesday to defend himself against accusations that he sexually assaulted a female passenger.
Around 1:18 a.m. on May 23, 2015, a police officer testified she found Al-Rawi between the naked legs of an unconscious woman he had picked up on Grafton Street and had driven to the south end of the city.
He told Judge Ann Marie Simmons he knew “from the moment” she sat down in his car that she was drunk, and described her behaviour as “unstable” and “emotional,” as she cried in the vehicle and stared at her phone.
He said she didn’t give him her home address, but when prompted, used hand signals to direct his turns at intersections. The woman cannot be named under a publication ban. She was in her mid-twenties at the time.
Al-Rawi, who spoke through an Arabic-to-English translator in Halifax Provincial Court, said he asked the woman if she had “boys drama” and she said yes. He testified that he comforted her, and told her she was a “beautiful young lady, you are smart and you understand, you know how to talk.”
He claimed that she then kissed him on the cheek and touched his neck -– which he took as a sign she was grateful for his words.
By the time they reached the intersection of Inglis and South Park Street, he said the woman asked him to stop so she could urinate. When she got out, he noticed some unidentifiable stains on the passenger seat, and upon her return, Al-Rawi told the court that he asked her to pay the fare and leave.
Instead, she got back in the car and paid.
Al-Rawi has yet to testify on when the woman fell unconscious, how her pants came off and why he was between her legs. But a forensic scientist, called as a witness by the Crown, told the court that DNA testing conducted shortly after Al-Rawi’s arrest that night found the complainant’s DNA on his lips.
None of Al-Rawi’s DNA was on the complainant, and Ruth Campbell, a sexual assault nurse examiner, testified that in the hospital after the incident, she could not identify any injuries on the woman, or foreign materials, such as hair or fabric.
The complainant has previously testified that she doesn’t remember any of these events, but would not have consented to sex with Al-Rawi.
Al-Rawi was initially cleared of the sexual assault judge in a controversial March 2017 ruling from Judge Gregory Lenehan that said, “Clearly, a drunk can consent.”
But that decision was overturned in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, prompting the current retrial.
Al-Rawi didn’t testify in the first trial, but on Wednesday, his lawyer asked him to recount the moments leading up to the woman’s pickup in detail, including the weather, the road conditions and his previous activities that day.
The lawyer asked his client to review photos of himself and the inside of the Honda Civic he drove that night.
In some of those photos, Al-Rawi is seen with his jeans button undone. He explained that he drives with the button undone for comfort, and that his jacket ensures the undone button isn’t seen by passengers. Hutchison also asked why it’s clear that Al-Rawi had a condom in the car that night, to which he responded that he’s carried one in his wallet since the age of 23.
WATCH: Sexual assault trial of former cab driver resumes in Halifax (April 15, 2019)
Al-Rawi will resume his testimony on Thursday, and his lawyer confirmed that they plan to call another witness: a paramedic.
The Crown closed its case on Wednesday morning after eight days of evidence and is expected to cross-examine Al-Rawi, although the complainant will not testify again.
Al-Rawi, now 43-years-old, lives in Munich, Germany and has been married for three years. The native of Baghdad, Iraq runs a medical care company with 30 employees, and is a university-educated biomedical engineer. He moved to Canada in 1999 and holds citizenship. He lived in Bedford, N.S.. at the time of the alleged assault, and ran a taxi company with four cabs.
He said the sexual assault charge forced him to move overseas.