Canadian Judge Acquits Alleged Rapist: 'Clearly A Drunk Can Consent'

A provincial judge in Canada acquitted a man accused of sexually abusing an unconscious woman. Now, advocates want him to be removed from the bench.

Canadian Judge Gregory Lenehan from Nova Scotia acquitted a taxi driver accused of sexually assaulting a female passenger. And the reasoning behind his decision will leave you speechless.

In the provincial courtroom, Lenehan said that “clearly, a drunk can consent” before ruling Bassam al-Rawi hadn't committed a crime.

The incident took place in 2015, when a police officer found an intoxicated and unconscious woman in her 20s in the back of a parked taxi, The Guardian reports. She had urinated on herself and was found stripped naked from the chest down.

Police found al-Rawi holding her pants and underwear while his own pants had been pulled partially down — his zipper was also undone. This scene prompted the police to take him into custody.

After forensic testing, it was discovered that the driver had the woman's DNA on his upper lip, but nothing seemed to suggest the woman had been capable of consenting to sexual activity prior to being unconscious.

During the hearing, the victim — whose identity is protected — said she remembered consuming three drinks at a bar downtown. After that, she told the court, it all had been wiped out of her memory. According to lab tests, her alcohol level was nearly three times the legal driving limit.

After the two-day trial, Lenehan told the court that while it's without a doubt that the woman was intoxicated and that 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, … This does not mean, however, that an intoxicated person cannot give consent to sexual activity.” Clearly a serious contradiction, considering the judge admitted that the victim was drunk and that being in that state would make her “incapable of understanding” the situation.

Seeing this as an assault on women's rights, dozens of sexual assault centers and advocates for survivors of sexual violence came together to file a formal complaint against the judge, with others planning two marches in the province. So far, an online petition calling for Lenehan's removal from the bench has gathered over 35,000 signatures. And now, many are also writing letters demanding a judicial review.

In Canada, sexual assault is both one of the most under-reported and most prevalent crimes. It's also among “the most difficult on which to obtain a conviction,” The Guardian reports.

To Lucille Harper, who's with the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services, the victim was clearly incapacitated.

“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.”

She worries this ruling will discourage other women from opening up about their own stories of sexual assault, allowing perpetrators to remain free.

Hopefully, the movement ignited by this story will help both the victim in this horrific case and other Canadian women who are now afraid their voices won't be heard.

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Mark Blinch/Reuters / Mark Blinch/Reuters

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