HALIFAX — A Supreme Court judge has acquitted a Halifax taxi driver of sexually assaulting a female passenger, saying the evidence in the case left her with reasonable doubt about the man's guilt.
Seyed Mirsaeid-Ghazi let out a sigh of relief and pressed his hands against his face as Justice Ann Smith delivered her decision Thursday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
The Crown had alleged Mirsaeid-Ghazi, who is in his mid-40s, rubbed the young woman's thigh and slid his hand down the top of her dress and touched her bare breast as she sat in the front seat of his cab, after picking her up in central Halifax in October 2015.
But defence lawyer Luke Craggs disputed the allegations during the trial, saying the woman attached herself to the driver when she got in the cab because she was cold, prompting him to push her off.
The trial heard the complainant had the personal cell phone number of Mirsaeid-Ghazi and had been calling him for cab rides for roughly a year.
In her oral decision, Smith said when she considered the evidence as a whole, she could find "no objective basis for disbelieving either Mr. Mirsaeid-Ghazi or (the complainant) as to what took place."
"Although (the complainant) was unshaken in her evidence as to what she said Mr. Ghazi did to her in terms of the alleged assault, she also said in cross-examination that she couldn't remember if, after she hugged Mr. Mirsaeid-Ghazi, if she in fact did so, she was trying to warm herself in his space," said Smith in her decision, which was being translated in real time to Mirsaeid-Ghazi's first language of Farsi.
"If she was, that evidence would be consistent with Mr. Ghazi's evidence that (complainant) was in his space and that is why he used his hand to push her away."
Smith said while she did not believe all of Mirsaeid-Ghazi's evidence, "the evidence generally has left me in a reasonable doubt as to whether a sexual assault occurred."
"I must not analyse this case only as a credibility contest between Mr. Ghazi and (the complainant)," she said.
"Just because I found (the complainant) to be a credible witness does not mean that I must find Mr. Ghazi guilty. I may still be left with reasonable doubt. Just because I do not accept Mr. Ghazi's evidence as to (the complainant's) level of intoxication... that does not mean that I should conclude that all of his evidence is to be rejected."
Smith acquitted Mirsaeid-Ghazi of a single charge of sexual assault.
Mirsaeid-Ghazi — who has been married for 12 years and has a five-year-old son — declined to comment as he left the courthouse.
Craggs also declined to comment, as did Crown prosecutor Josie McKinney.
The complainant's name is protected by a publication ban.
McKinney had argued in closing arguments in March that the Crown had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, saying the testimony of other witnesses — university students who were with the alleged victim that night — corroborated her story.
She said the complainant had called Mirsaeid-Ghazi for a ride back to her apartment from a short distance away, after having walked down the street from her apartment with a friend.
"He asked to take her to coffee. She refused. He asked her for a kiss. She refused,'' said McKinney. "There is no reason for (her) to fabricate these allegations.''
But Craggs had argued in his closing arguments the complainant's testimony was not credible. He noted that Mirsaeid-Ghazi — who testified in his own defence at the trial — had a much different version of events.
Craggs said the young woman was in a dress and had been outside in cold weather, and when she got into Mirsaeid-Ghazi's cab, she attached herself to him, prompting him to push her off.
"He was concerned about his ability to operate the car safely,'' said Craggs, adding that Mirsaeid-Ghazi testified that she refused to put on her seatbelt and appeared very drunk.
Craggs said his client had testified that when they arrived at her apartment, the woman had no money. He grew angry with her and told her to leave and never call him again, he said.
Halifax police said the incident was reported to them in November 2015 and Mirsaeid-Ghazi was charged in April 2016.
The municipality has said Mirsaeid-Ghazi's taxi licence was suspended after the charge was laid. Since the suspension, Mirsaeid-Ghazi has been delivering pizzas and working at a restaurant.
A number of Halifax taxi drivers have faced allegations of sexual assault in recent years.
Earlier this month, a sexual assault charge against cab driver Farset Mohammad was dropped, after the Crown said there was no realistic prospect of conviction.
In January, a taxi driver acquitted of sexually assaulting a drunk and unconscious woman was ordered to again stand trial in a case that sparked a national debate over intoxication and the capacity to consent to sex.
The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal had concluded the judge that presided over Bassam Al-Rawi's trial erred in law by finding there was no evidence of lack of consent.
Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press