Judging Sexual Assault Trials: Systemic Failure in the Case of Regina v Bassam Al-Rawi
(2017) 95 Canadian Bar Review 180
33 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2017 Last revised: 19 Oct 2017
Date Written: April 10, 2017
The recent decision to acquit a Halifax taxi driver of sexual assault in a case involving a very intoxicated woman, who was found by police in the accused’s vehicle unconscious and naked from the breasts down, rightly sparked public criticism and consternation. A review of the trial record in Al-Rawi, including the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, the closing submissions of the Crown and defence counsel, and the trial judge’s oral decision suggests a failure of our legal system to respond appropriately to allegations of sexual assault - a failure for which, the author argues, both the trial judge and legal counsel may bear some responsibility. Arguably, in addition to the many legal errors of the trial judge, both the Crown and defence counsel in this case also contributed to the problematic outcome in Al-Rawi. For example, defence counsel introduced evidence that the complainant had flirted and danced inappropriately earlier in the evening on the night of the incident. The theory of the defence appears to have been that the complainant, when she consumes alcohol, becomes the “type of person” who flirts and dances inappropriately with men in bars, and can reasonably be inferred to have entered a taxi, stripped her urine soiled clothes off, thrown them at the unknown driver, perhaps kissed or licked his face, and then propped up her legs in the straddle position minutes or seconds before passing out. The Crown did not object when defence counsel introduced this evidence, which arguably should have been excluded under Canada’s rape shield regime; nor did he, in his closing, urge the trial judge to ensure that it not be relied upon to draw stereotypical inferences about women, alcohol, and sex.
Keywords: sexual assault, consent, intoxication, rape shield, stereotype, prior sexual history, drunk, capacity to consent
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