MADD director says group should rethink taxi advice after 'drunk can consent' case

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MADD director says group should rethink taxi advice after 'drunk can consent' case

A Nova Scotia judge's controversial decision to acquit a taxi driver of sexual assaulting an intoxicated passenger has prompted a MADD director to urge her organization to rethink its long-standing advice to cab home after a night out.

"In light of the situation that recently occurred in Halifax, I would certainly feel, as the mom of two daughters, that [calling a taxi] is not the first choice I'd like them to make," Anissa Aldridge, the Atlantic director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told CBC News on Thursday.

She said turning the focus away from taxis is a big step and she will raise it at MADD Canada's general meeting at the end of April in Toronto.

MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie said in an email Friday the national organization has not changed its policy concerning the use of taxis.

He called Aldridge's comment "just a local reaction, more from the perspective of a mother than any policy change from the national organization."

End of #TAXI campaign

In May 2015, a police officer found a 26-year-old woman unconscious and partially clothed in the back of Bassam Al-Rawi's taxi. Al-Rawi had her urine-soaked underwear in his hands and test results later found her DNA on his upper lip.

The woman testified during a two-day trial she recalled little from that night. Earlier this month, Judge Gregory Lenehan ruled the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the woman had not consented. He also stated "clearly, a drunk can consent."

For the last 14 years, Mothers Against Drunk Driving ran a #TAXI ad campaign urging people to dial pound T-A-X-I (#8294) to get home safely, but ended it two months ago after it had run its course. The decision was not connected to the court case.

MADD Atlantic doesn't plan to reuse the pro-taxi campaign, Aldridge said.

"We've relied on Casino Taxi, Yellow Cabs, Satellite Taxi — all of those companies — to get us home safely in the past. I think that most certainly will continue, but we also have to explore different options," Aldridge said.

"We can't now state that all taxi drivers might be a concern … but the option of going two, three or four people in a taxi if you're a young woman and feeling unsafe, might be a great option."

She urged people to plan ahead for a safe way home, either by booking a hotel, staying at a friend's house, appointing a designated driver, or walking if it's possible.  

'It's just absurd'

Dave Buffett, president of the Halifax Taxi Drivers Owners Association, called Aldridge's comments "incredibly irresponsible."

"I just think it's an overreaction. I think this lady didn't give this a lot of thought, maybe she was on the spot or something. It's just absurd."

He said drivers charged with sexually assaulting passengers have all lost their taxi licences and are "out of the equation." The chances of being molested in a cab "are very low" when compared to the number of sexual assaults reported annually to Halifax police, Buffett said.

But he recommends passengers greet cab drivers using their roof light number, to indicate knowledge of the industry and its reporting procedures.

'Serious concern' about ruling

CBC's Mainstreet interviewed Susan MacAskill, another member of MADD in Atlantic Canada, the day after the verdict. She said it would likely discourage people from calling a taxi.

"As an organization, for decades we've encouraged people to arrange for safe and sober alternate transportation home if they're going to be consuming alcohol," she said on March 3.

"We have a serious concern about the impact of this ruling."

Clarification : A previous version of this story said MADD Canada was backing away from its long-standing advice to cab home after a night out. MADD Canada, however, says it has not changed its policies and that the comments reflected the perspective of the organization's Atlantic director.(Mar 17, 2017 9:40 AM)