Advocates for survivors of sexual abuse say they’re disappointed with a Nova Scotia court judge’s decision to grant bail to a former Halifax cab driver convicted of sexual assault.
Bassam Al-Rawi was given permission to return to Germany with his wife on Thursday, while an appeal of his conviction is pending. Al-Rawi was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman he picked up in downtown Halifax on Dec. 15, 2012.
“We’re looking at the perpetrator’s comfort over the comfort and care of survivors,” said advocate Amanda Dodsworth, who co-organized a silent protest in September 2019, after Al-Rawi was acquitted of a separate sexual assault charge.
“If I was someone who was thinking about coming forward, this is another thing that has an impact on whether I think it’s worth it to be retraumatized.”
Al-Rawi’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment on this story, but argued in court that his client should be granted bail because his immigration status and his car rental business are in serious jeopardy in Germany, and Al-Rawi could face deportation.
Al-Rawi’s wife, who has regularly attended court in Halifax by his side, is also pregnant and only able to access free health care in Germany. Al-Rawi cannot sponsor his wife’s application for permanent residency in Canada because of his sexual assault conviction.
“Everything in my life is dependent on this case,” Al-Rawi testified on Thursday. “Under no circumstances will I fail to attend.”
Given his previous attendance record and compelling motivations to attend his appeal hearing in June, Justice Anne Derrick determined Al-Rawi is “not a flight risk.” She also found he is not a public safety risk, given that he’s a first time offender in the eyes of the court.
“Mr. Al-Rawi has an impeccable record of attending court here as required,” wrote Derrick in her written decision. “I was satisfied he and his surety are committed to him complying with his bail conditions under the ‘Germany’ release plan.”
A cash deposit of $25,000 and a pledge to pay $50,000 more was required to secure Al-Rawi’s release.
James Gumpert, senior Crown counsel with the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, said he could find no legal grounds to challenge Al-Rawi’s bail application, no matter how terrible he finds Al-Rawi’s behaviour.
“Mr. Al-Rawi is convicted of a very serious criminal offence, reprehensible conduct in society,” he told Global News. “If his conviction stands after an appeal he will be punished, he will have to serve the remainder of his two-year sentence.”
The fact that Al-Rawi has appealed the conviction weighed heavily in Al-Rawi’s release he added, because if the conviction is overturned and Al-Rawi is acquitted, there is no way to return the time to him that he spent in custody while waiting.
None of these considerations pass muster with social worker Chrissy Merrigan, an advocate who — with friend Dodsworth — has followed Al-Rawi’s high-profile court dealings for years.
“I can’t muster up the sympathy and I’m not going to try. Sure bail is a legal right but again that speaks to the broken system we’re working with,” she said in an interview.
“I have more empathy and sympathy for the survivors of sexual assaults and other crimes he may have committed. At this point, it’s been more than one allegation brought forward, more than one person who’s said this has happened.”
In 2017, Al-Rawi 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, Judge Gregory Lenehan, erred by finding there was no evidence showing a lack of consent.
Al-Rawi was once again found not guilty during the retrial in September 2019. He has maintained his innocence through all three trials.
Avalon Sexual Assault Centre director Jackie Stevens said even though the legal decision may be sound, granting him bail now reinforces that Canada has a legal system, not a justice system.
“It can feel very disempowering and frustrating and revictimizing to hear decisions are being made because someone has personal financial reasons to be on bail, when a survivor’s financial work or employment situation has been impacted by them being targeted for violence, or other things they might be facing as a result of the violence.”
Al-Rawi’s appeal is scheduled to be heard in Halifax on June 11.