Taxi driver who was convicted of sexual assault after grabbing a female passenger and kissing her in his taxi, had his sentence overturned by the Superior Court of Justice after the original judge cited the man’s religion and skin colour, and the case’s impact on the Sikh community in his ruling.
Justice Peter Coulson found Jatinder Singh guilty in November 2013 and sentenced him to 30 days in jail, followed by one year of probation, and put him on the national sex offender registry for 10 years. He also imposed a mandatory DNA order.
The woman testified she got in the cab after a Halloween party in 2012 and was assaulted after she paid her fare. She ran out of the vehicle to her house, leaving her purse in her haste, and called a friend who suggested she report the assault to police.
Although the defence raised several inconsistencies in her evidence, including where the cabbie grabbed her and details about her method of payment, the judge was satisfied with each of her rebuttals and believed she had “absolutely no motive to lie.”
At the sentencing hearing, the judge made multiple references to the man’s religion and physical appearance, saying, “Sikh drivers specifically take a hit here, and that’s not fair to them.”
Coulson also said the following: “The damage that I spoke of that troubled me with regard to Sikh taxi drivers, you have done to your fellow Sikhs, that damage. They do not deserve it, and I hope that people will not approach a Sikh and feel distrustful; they ought not to. I got to know a number of them riding in their taxis around in Delhi and got to chat with them at quite some length about their very fine country, and got to like several of them.
But here in Ottawa, there may be those that do not treat them as well as they should.”
The cabbie collapsed in the courtroom during the sentencing hearing, which had to be adjourned for the day. When it continued the following week, the judge again raised the accused’s religion and appearance.
“You are a Sikh of swarthy complexion. We do not want people saying, ‘I won’t get in a taxi driven by a dark-skinned person.’ That is not fair to the driver who is trying to make a living this way. We do not want people reacting that way, either. Therefore, something firm must happen to you.”
Singh appealed his conviction and sentence. His lawyer, Solomon Friedman, who did not represent him at trial, alleged the judge “applied irrelevant and discriminatory considerations, namely the race, religion and skin colour of the appellant, in passing sentence.”