Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.
Bassam Al-Rawi, a former Halifax cab driver who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman he picked up downtown, has been sentenced to two years in prison.
In Nova Scotia Supreme Court Thursday, Justice Gerald Moir considered a pre-sentence report, the victim’s impact statement, a doctor’s letters about Al-Rawi’s wife’s pregnancy, and a letter from Al-Rawi’s wife in his decision
Al-Rawi was found guilty of sexually assaulting a highly intoxicated woman who he picked up in his cab in downtown Halifax on Dec. 15, 2012. It’s the second time he’s been accused of sexual assault.
In 2017, he was acquitted of sexually assaulting a woman who was found unconscious in the back of his taxi in May 2015. However, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ordered a new trial after it was found that the trial judge erred by ignoring circumstantial evidence.
He was once again found not guilty during the retrial in September 2019. Al-Rawi has maintained his innocence through all three trials.
The Crown was recommending a sentence of between three and four years, while the defence asked for a non-custodial sentence of two years.
Lawyers debate Al-Rawi’s sentence
Crown attorney Carla Ball began the discussion around how long a sentence Al-Rawi should receive by reviewing previous sexual assault sentences.
She concluded by recommending a sentence of three to four years but would like to see it at the higher end of four years.
Ball said the violence of the assault, the fact that the victim was intoxicated and Al-Rawi knew she was intoxicated, and the impact the assault still has had on the victim should all be taken into consideration in Moir’s sentence.
However, defence attorney Ian Hutchison recommended a sentence of two years.
He highlighted Al-Rawi’s lack of previous criminal record, as well as Al-Rawi’s current immigration status and the repercussions of a harsh sentence on his current businesses and financial situation.
Despite Al-Rawi receiving a lesser sentence Ball said the conviction is proof that coming forward and telling the truth works.
“(The victim) really is a survivor of it all and despite the criminal justice process, the impact will be long-lasting,” she said.
‘Afraid to ride in taxis if I have had even just one drink,’ victim says
During the proceedings on Thursday morning, the complainant presented her victim impact statement to the court, where she said the trauma caused by the assault continues to impact her personal life, professional life and mental health.
“Exactly a year after the assault, I had my first panic attack,” her statement reads. “It felt like my lungs couldn’t take in enough air, like a brick was laying on my chest as I started sobbing out of, seemingly, nowhere.
“I laid on the floor for a long time trying to calm down my body and mind.”
The victim, whose identity continues to be protected under a publication ban, said in order to heal, she’s had to force herself to revisit the assault many times.
She said she’s taken crisis counselling and therapy sessions, and joined group therapy sessions for sexual assault survivors to address the impact the assault has had on her emotional state.
The victim also said the assault has impacted her in the workplace.
“The stigma of sexual assault translates to an impact to my professional reputation that I have to bear, and will continue to have to bear, with unknown and unquantifiable consequences to me,” she read. “I’ve taken off nearly 12 weeks from work over the years for reasons related to this sexual assault.”
The victim said the assault has impacted her ability to be vulnerable in new relationships, as well as how she views riding in a taxi to this day.
“I carry with me the anxiety and shame of being preyed on while vulnerable from alcohol,” she said. “I have not had a serious romantic relationship in eight years.
“I am afraid to ride in taxis if I had even just one drink, but (taxis) are often unavoidable.”
The woman’s victim impact statement was the central focus of Wednesday’s court proceeding when Al-Rawi’s defence team called for a mistrial, alleging the statement contained “fresh evidence that showed bias against Al-Rawi.”
The motion was quickly turned aside by Moir, who sided with the Crown’s assertion that the statement only reinforced the emotions and evidence that were presented through the course of the trial.
The victim concluded her statement by stating that the impacts of the assault are something she’ll have to deal with the rest of her life.
“The biggest impact for me has been the nearly eight years of fear that (Al-Rawi’s) predatory cycle of abuse continues. And the constant questioning of myself about whether I did enough to stop violence against more vulnerable women,” she said.
“Finally, today, I feel I have done enough, as Bassam Al-Rawi is held accountable by this court.”