HALIFAX – A petition is circulating online calling for a formal inquiry into the judge who recently acquitted a Halifax taxi driver of the sexual assault of a passenger passed out in his cab.
Judge Gregory Lenehan’s controversial verdict on Wednesday has caused backlash online and from sexual assault advocates who would like to see him removed from the bench.
Forty-year-old Bassam Al-Rawi was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a young woman in his cab almost two years ago after Lenehan said the crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt she didn’t consent even though police found her woman passed out and naked from the waist down.
The petition, posted on Change.org, is asking for a formal inquiry into justice Gregory Lenehan’s behaviour, as it says his ideas of consent are quote antiquated and dangerous.
“It isn’t as simple as yes means yes in some ways,” says Dalhousie University Law Professor Wayne MacKay. “The area of consent is a very difficult factual, nuanced kind of area of the law, and that’s one of the reason’s sexual assault is such a difficult area.”
MacKay says the criminal code could better balance the rights of the victim and accused, but changing the code would be difficult.
The petition says Lenehan should not be in a position to hand down decisions allowing sexual predators to go free and that the petition will be delivered to a number of councillors, the mayor, the justice department and Chief Justice Pamela Williams.
As of writing, the petition is just 300 signatures shy of the goal of 7,500.
SENDING THE WRONG MESSAGE
Meantime a local sexual assault nurse examiner says the verdict and comments from Lenehan send a detrimental message to sexual assault survivors and those who may now feel they should not come forward.
“The messaging that goes along with this, the language that was used by the judge, does that deter others from reporting? I would say it does,” says Susan Wilson. “It puts the message out there that it’s okay to do this.”
Judge Lenehan is taking some heat online for comments made while handing down his decision, including saying “clearly a drunk can consent”.
Wilson says the decision on Al-Rawi is part of a larger trend seen across the country when it comes to sexual assault prosecutions.
“If you look at the conviction rates across the country and our local research we did here, it shows a seven per cent conviction rate,” she said. “It’s really bad.”
Wilson says she believes the issues are around how individual judges interpret consent. She says she wants to see all judges receive training on handling sexual assault cases.