The word of three women is worth less than that of one male taxi driver, when it comes to sexual assault. ISIS? Shariyah law? No – Halifax City Council.
ICYMI, last week, even though a police officer interrupted the driver, Bassam Aladin Al-Rawi, with his bare buttocks on display in his cab, just before charging him with sexual assault of his female passenger, Halifax City councillors can’t seem to take the leap and suspend Al-Rawi’s taxi license. Read about it from the Halifax Examiner here and from CTV here. Did I mention there were two other sexual assault complaints made by females? (update – Make that three.) None of it apparently means enough to suspend the privilege of a taxi license. Al-Rawi is free to drive a cab from 6am to 6pm, 7 days a week, as long as there is an (unmonitored) camera in the car.
Councillor Matt Whitman has been tweeting about how “innocent until proven guilty” means they can’t possibly stop the poor man from driving his cab. Let’s unpack that a bit.
The presumption of innocence is a concept from criminal law that requires prosecutors to bear the burden of proving their case, with evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt. This standard applies in criminal trials, not in every decision-making context.
But people tend to use this “innocent until proven guilty” phrase, I notice, in any and all situations that involve women reporting male abuse. And it is interpreted to mean that one’s hands are tied and prevented from taking any precautionary steps to create safety. Or should I say, it is used as a legal-sounding excuse for decision-makers to sit on their hands, when it comes to public safety and sexual assault.
Because: women’s voices often mean nothing in Halifax, in Canada, and around the world. Three police reports about the sexual assault of passengers are ample evidence upon which to suspend a taxi license. Taxi drivers have been subject to full suspension for uttering homophobic slurs according to passengers, for dangerous driving according to passengers, for uttering threats according to passengers, for wearing a medical mask and gloves according to passengers, or even for engaging in consensual sexual activity in his cab. But women passengers’ reporting of sexual violation in Halifax is being treated as meaningless until there is a criminal court conviction. This is very faulty reasoning. It is also legally indefensible for administrative decisionmakers here.
Reality check: None of the other suspensions required a criminal court conviction before passengers were believed and actions taken. Only the violated women are devalued. We don’t generally require a criminal conviction before people lose privileges relating to employment, housing, or profession.
Only a very tiny minority of perpetrators will ever be convicted in a criminal court of law. By waiting for criminal convictions before we take any safety steps for ourselves or the public, we are guaranteeing that perpetrators will have a welcoming environment in which to offend again and again and again.
Make no mistake, for a serial offender, having a mobile, enclosed space that they control, a vehicle in which to offend, can be part of a rapist’s rape kit, just as much as carrying around duct tape and a knife. Why are Halifax city councillors even remotely enabling this?
The Halifax taxi companies, to their credit, see this completely clearly. None are willing to take the risk of hiring Al-Rawi, altough he remains licensed to work independently.
Halifax City staff also recommended against restoring Al-Rawi’s license: “Our overriding principle as an authority is to ensure that all customers are safe while in care of a cab driver and the cab itself,” and “We felt that the safety of passengers was in question with this driver on the streets.”
Who will Halifax be next handing out a taxi license to? Bill Cosby? Gerald Regan? Jian Ghomeshi? None have been convicted of a crime – so Halifax apparently has no problem licensing them as safe to have women climbing into their backseats (between the hours of 6am and 6pm, only, natch.)
Photo: Beverley Goodwin