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Group converts online fury against cabbie's acquittal into handwritten campaign

Group pens letters against cabbie's acquittal

HALIFAX — A small group of people spent Sunday trying to harness the social media outcry against the acquittal of Halifax taxi driver who was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in his cab.

They gathered at a library on Sunday to write letters demanding a judicial council review of Judge Gregory Lenehan, who ruled last week that the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the woman did not consent to sexual activity with cab driver Bassam Al-Rawi.

Elise MacIntyre, a 27-year-old auto mechanic, said she has no experience as an organizer, but was so moved by the graphic details of the case and Lenehan's remark that a "drunk can consent" during last Wednesday's ruling that she decided to hold an event to help others navigate the process of filing a formal complaint requesting a judicial council sanction or removal from the bench.

A spokeswoman for the province's judiciary confirmed Friday that a complaint has already been received.

Al-Rawi, 40, was charged after police found the woman, in her 20s, passed out and partially naked in his car in the early hours of May 23, 2015.

MacIntyre says that if a police constable's testimony that Al-Rawi was seen shoving the woman's pants and underwear between the front seats is not enough evidence for a conviction, then it's "open season on drunk women."

"How do I look at those young people in my classroom and say ... 'If somebody does something to you, you should tell somebody,'" said junior high school teacher Sarah Bezanson. "To have the system fail (the complainant) in this way makes other people look at the situation and go, 'Why bother?'" 

The group sat around a table with pens and yellow legal pads, each writing a personalized complaint to be sent to the office of the chief provincial court judge, who normally decides whether to refer complaints to a judicial council composed of judges, lawyers and laypeople but has recused herself in the case because she is Lenehan's former wife.

Sarah Hicks, a 28-year-old family support worker, came to the library to collect handwritten signatures for a petition to be presented to Nova Scotia's justice minister to support an online campaign with more than 33,000 supporters.

Hicks says the victim in the case was let down twice — once by the taxi driver she trusted would get her home safely and a second time by a legal process she thought would bring her justice.

"Everyone can relate to being in a taxi. You have this inherent notion that you be should be safe," she says. "Here's a judge who's supposed to know the law inside out ... but they both failed."

Martha Cody says she feels that there is a growing gap between the courtroom and the court of public opinion when it comes to sexual assault that needs to be remedied with proper training for law enforcement, lawyers and judges.

"It's galvanized a lot of people, this case ... because of education that people are getting elsewhere with regards to sexual assault," says Cody. "There are potentially teenagers and very young people who have a much better idea of what consent is than perhaps a judge. That's not right." 

Sunday's event was one of several planned this week to protest Lenehan's ruling, including two marches on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Local media reports said Al-Rawi's lawyer didn't comment last week after the verdict was handed down.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press