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News > World

Canada Judge Rules 'Drunk Can Consent' in Sexual Assault Case

  • People protest against the acquittal of ex-radio host Jian Ghomeshi last year.

    People protest against the acquittal of ex-radio host Jian Ghomeshi last year. | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 March 2017

Women activists are calling for the removal of the judge after he acquitted a taxi driver over sexual assault.

A Canadian judge is under fire and calls are mounting for his removal from women's organizations and activists after he acquitted a taxi driver who assaulted an intoxicated woman, arguing that “a drunk can consent” and prosecution could not provide evidence for lack of it.

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The prosecution in Halifax where the incident took place is appealing Judge Gregory Lenehan’s ruling in favor of taxi driver Bassam Rawi for lack of evidence that he had sexual relations with a woman found in the back seat of his taxi without her consent.

“A person will be incapable of giving consent if she is unconscious or is so intoxicated by alcohol or drugs as to be incapable of understanding or perceiving the situation that presents itself,” the judge said, according to a transcript published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

“This does not mean, however, that an intoxicated person cannot give consent to sexual activity. Clearly, a drunk can consent.”

As of Tuesday evening, more than 35,000 people had signed a petition calling for his removal as part of a campaign against him that kicked off last week after the controversial ruling and the troubling comment.

“Gregory Lenehan's ideas of consent are antiquated and dangerous. He should not be in a position to hand down decisions allowing sexual predators to go free,” the petition read.

In 2015 the police found the unnamed woman in her 20s unconscious in the back seat of Rawi’s taxi. She was naked from the chest down and had urinated on herself. The driver was found holding her pants and underwear. Her DNA was found on Bassam's mouth.

"We have conducted a legal analysis of the judge's decision and have concluded there is a solid basis to appeal the ruling," Denise Smith, deputy director of public prosecutions, said in a press release Tuesday.

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The woman told the police that she had no recollection of the events of that night, that she was rejected from a bar because of her level of intoxication or that she rode in the taxi. Her level of intoxication when she was found was three times the legal limit for driving.

Women rights advocates argue that the judge’s suggestion that she could have given consent in that state is impossible.

“When the victim was highly intoxicated, where her blood level was three times the legal limit of the level for driving, and where she was found to be unconscious in the back seat of a taxi, and where she had been turned away from a bar earlier in the evening because she was too intoxicated – clearly she was incapable of consent,” Lucille Harper of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services told the Guardian.

She added that such rulings are discouraging women from coming forward with rape or sexual assault complaints because “the likelihood of you seeing justice through the courts is very low.”

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