When Judge Lenehan acquitted taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi of sexual assault charges despite DNA evidence and a police witness, a concerned citizen started #HaliLadyCab to raise awareness and support for people trying to get home safely.
The hashtag started trending on Twitter until Judge Lenehan released his full decision, saying ’clearly a drunk can consent’. Public outrage then prompted The Crown to appeal the decision based on six grounds of error in law, while Alana Canales campaigned for women in Halifax to offer each other rides. “The length of time and final denial of presumed justice led me to some introspection. What can I do, and what can I do right now, to help these people that I care about? I thought of a friend of mine that I know has been sexually assaulted, and I knew I would do literally anything if it would save her. The least I could do is offer a ride to anybody that knows me.”
The head of the Halifax Taxi Association told Metro there is a one in five million chance of sexual assault by a taxi driver. Canales was suspicious of this claim, saying “I suspect Halifax’s record lately would stick out like a sore thumb, but also, the statistical likelihood of being assaulted doesn’t come to mind for the individual who may have had past trauma and has just recently seen the news that being caught by a police officer with DNA evidence on a cab driver’s face is not enough to convict. This is deeply troubling, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that cab drivers now have the knowledge that even if caught, panties in hand, they still may not be convicted.”
CBC News reports 12 cab drivers in Halifax have lost their licenses in the last 6 years and there have been 14 reports of young women being sexually assaulted by taxi drivers since 2012.
The ruling on Bassam Al-Rawi’s case has a program coordinator with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre concerned about an increase in unreported incidents. “When we see cases like this that get so much public attention, we know that people are less likely to report [sexual assault]” Susan Wilson told the Halifax Examiner. A recent program evaluation from the centre estimates only 6% of sexual assaults in HRM are reported.
Canales noted several stories she heard from women interested in the ride share. “I did get a number of DM’s from people offering their own stories which ranged from inappropriate things like being offered the cab driver’s phone number, to being offered a free ride in exchange for sexual services. One woman said she actually jumped from a moving cab because of that.”
Canales says she started #HaliLadyCab out of concern for women, but added “I would gladly offer a ride to anybody who felt vulnerable”.
“The way HaliLadyCab works is if you’re in need of a ride, pop onto your Twitter account, and anybody you see tweeting, you can check if they have the hashtag in their bio. You can also tweet out with the hashtag that you are looking for a ride, and if someone replies to that, a direct message can confirm sensitive information such as the where/when’s. Phone numbers are not out in public, and there is no plan on that either. This is meant to be an additional option – not a guarantee, and certainly not a first resort if other options exist”.
The awareness campaign and ride share isn’t limited to downtown Halifax. “I live in Dartmouth, and two other ladies I know who put the hashtag in their bio are on the outskirts of ‘the city’ as well, Bedford and Herring Cove.”
I asked Canales what advice newcomers to Canada can use to make sure they get home safe in Halifax. “I have been a host family for 3 years to international students and there certainly are patterns. Don’t flash around how much money you have. Always bring a map in addition to technology that relies on battery power. For the first while, try to limit solo travel to daytime hours to help become familiar with your surroundings, how public transit works. Always have phone numbers of locals that you trust handy in both mobile and print version.”
*Correction: “The likelihood of being assaulted comes to mind for the individual who may have had past trauma” was changed to “but also, the statistical likelihood of being assaulted doesn’t come to mind for the individual who may have had past trauma”.