Former Halifax taxi driver allowed to return to Germany as he awaits sex assault appeal

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A former Halifax taxi driver sentenced to two years in prison last month for sexually assaulting a woman eight years ago has been granted bail and will be allowed to return to Germany while he awaits his appeal hearing in June.

Bassam Al-Rawi filed a notice of appeal through his lawyer on Dec. 30. In August, he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman in his Bedford, N.S., apartment in 2012, after he picked her up in his taxi while she was lost downtown.

Al-Rawi's wife, who is pregnant with their first child, is a German citizen and he owns a business there.

Justice Anne Derrick of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal released Al-Rawi on conditions on Thursday, saying there was a "very strong, powerful incentive" for Al-Rawi to comply with his conditions and surrender himself to the court.

"Based on the evidence I have before me is that everything rides for Mr. Al-Rawi on him engaging with and, as I've put it, prosecuting his appeal," she said.

"I accept there are immigration, financial, domestic, housing implications that are very significant."

Al-Rawi's appeal will be held on June 11.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Last month, Al-Rawi requested a mistrial but was rejected. He was then sentenced to two years in federal prison.

The appeal documents allege the trial judge erred when considering some evidence related to the complainant's credibility and when considering identification evidence, as well as improperly using hearsay evidence.

They also allege the court erred in shifting the burden of proof to Al-Rawi and determining if the intention to commit a crime for the sexual assault offence was met.

Al-Rawi's history of attending previous court dates, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and living in another country, was emphasized as a reason he should be granted bail on Thursday.

Al-Rawi said through a translator that "literally everything in my life is dependent" on his being able to overturn his conviction and that is why he will comply with the court process.

"I have a history of commitment to attend these legal proceedings and I will not give up on this."

Temporary residency permit

Al-Rawi and his wife travelled from Germany to Nova Scotia for the trial last summer.

He said he hoped to see the birth of his first child, who is due in late April or early May, as well as keep his struggling businesses there afloat. He owns a car rental company, My Ride, that employs more than 30 people.

Al-Rawi must also be in Germany to renew his temporary residency permit, which expires in the spring. He must return to the country by Feb. 8 in order to be able to renew it.

His wife has remained in Halifax on a visitor's visa, but because of his conviction, Al-Rawi cannot sponsor her to obtain permanent residency. She also is not entitled to MSI health benefits and will have to return to Germany for the birth of their child.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Crown lawyer Jim Gumpert said there are arguable grounds of appeal and that he considered many factors before concluding he could not oppose Al-Rawi's release.

Those considerations included that Al-Rawi had never breached his condition of not having contact with the victim, and that he has come back from Germany at least six times to attend court.

"I can't find any fault in the argument that it is in his personal best interest to surrender," Gumpert said.

Derrick said in her decision that Al-Rawi has an "impeccable record" for attending court and that there is a "firm basis in law for the position the Crown took" in not opposing bail.

Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press

She also said she felt satisfied there would be ongoing contact between Al-Rawi and his surety — a close childhood friend who lives in Ottawa — despite the geographical distance. The friend also posted $50,000.

During the trial last August, the victim told the court that she drove from Pictou County to Halifax on Dec. 14, 2012, with a group of friends. On Dec. 15, after a night out, she said a taxi driver picked her up downtown and took her back to his apartment.

The woman, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, testified that he assaulted her in his bedroom while she was drunk and pretending to be unconscious.

She reported the assault to police at the time, but no charges were laid. In 2017, after Al-Rawi had been acquitted of a different sexual assault, the woman came forward again.

'Drunk can consent'

Al-Rawi previously faced charges related to allegations he sexually assaulted a woman in his taxi in 2015. A police officer found her unconscious in his cab.

The case received widespread attention in 2017 when the original trial judge in that matter stated, "Clearly a drunk can consent," while acquitting Al-Rawi.

A new trial was ordered, however Al-Rawi was acquitted again in September 2019.

A second bail plan was also proposed, which would have seen Al-Rawi remain in Canada and live in Ottawa close to his surety.

The court documents said he fears for his safety remaining in Halifax, as his "notoriety ... makes it difficult for him to rent an apartment and obtain employment."

Al-Rawi must keep the peace, attend court as required, have no contact with the victim and report by phone to Halifax Regional Police once a week. He must also pay $25,000 to the court.

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