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Woman was passed out, mostly naked in Halifax taxi driver's car: constable

Bassam Al-Rawi faces a charge of sexual assault after an acquittal was overturned last January by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal
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HALIFAX — A Halifax police constable has described finding a young woman passed out and mostly naked in the back seat of a taxi, the driver between her legs.

Const. Monia Thibault told Bassam Al-Rawi's retrial Tuesday that she was searching for a robbery suspect on May 23, 2015, when she came upon a cab parked on a dark street in the city's south end, with the rear window fogged up.

Thibault said she saw a young woman naked in the back seat except for a tank top that was pushed up, partially exposing her breasts, and her legs were propped up on the front seats.

The constable said the woman appeared unconscious.

"She wasn't moving. She wasn't talking. Her eyes were closed," Thibault testified in Halifax provincial court, adding that she eventually had to shake the woman to wake her up.

"She was very confused and upset. She was crying .... She didn’t really know where she was."

Thibault said the taxi driver initially had his body turned towards the back seat and between the woman's legs, and started fumbling with a pair of pants and panties, attempting to stuff them in the console area of the vehicle.

She asked him what he was doing and told him to step out of the vehicle. He was then arrested.

Al-Rawi faces a charge of sexual assault, after an acquittal was overturned last January by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

The appeal court concluded the judge that presided over Al-Rawi's first trial in March 2017, Judge Gregory Lenehan, erred in law by finding there was no evidence of lack of consent.

Thibault said the complainant, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, had a soft voice that sounded like a "little girl," and she could smell alcohol on her breath. Her eyes were glossy and bloodshot, she said.

The woman was crying off and on as they travelled to the hospital in an ambulance, said Thibault.

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Ian Hutchison, Thibault testified that Al-Rawi's upper body appeared to be touching the complainant's legs when she approached the vehicle, but conceded that she did not see his hands.

Hutchison said his client's recollection of his body positioning when the officer approached the car is that his left arm was resting on the driver's side window, and his right hand was on the gear shift.

He said Al-Rawi's version of events is that the woman's legs were resting on the centre console and not propped up on the seats.

"That's not what I saw," Thibault told Judge Ann Marie Simmons.

"Her legs were open. He was turned. He was between her legs."

Later Tuesday, Const. Jason Marriott testified that he was in Halifax's south end that night investigating a rash of robberies involving a taxi when Thibault advised that she had found a cab in the area of Atlantic Street.

Marriott said he was only a few minutes away, so he responded. Al-Rawi was already being placed under arrest when he arrived, and he said the suspect's pants were slightly pulled down.

"I noted that his front zipper was down two to three inches," said Marriott.

He said a female was in the back seat, naked from the waist down and her shirt was pulled up.

"She was definitely incoherent," said Marriott, adding that she was not moving or speaking despite the commotion of someone being arrested outside of the vehicle.

The complainant may take the stand when the trial resumes Wednesday.

Al-Rawi, wearing a grey pinstripe suit with a white collared shirt and black tie, sat with a notepad and tablet on his lap next to an Arabic interpreter during proceedings.

Al-Rawi is also accused of sexual assault in an alleged 2012 incident. Police had decided in March 2013 there was insufficient evidence to charge him, but they took another look at the file in 2017 and decided there were grounds for a sexual assault charge.

He had previously moved to quash that 2012 charge, but Hutchison has said that his client no longer plans to move forward with the quashing attempt.

Lenehan's comment in his decision at Al-Rawi's first trial that "clearly, a drunk can consent'' sparked a national debate over intoxication and the capacity to consent to sex.

An independent judicial review committee last year dismissed several complaints against Lenehan, saying it found no evidence of impermissible reasoning or bias in his ruling.

Halifax police have charged multiple Halifax taxi drivers with sexual assault in recent years, including two this week.

Follow (at)AlyThomson on Twitter.

Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press

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