A sexual-assault charge laid against former Whitehorse cab driver, Jaspal Singh Tamber, 26 was withdrawn in court on Feb. 5. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Whitehorse cabbie has sexual assault charge withdrawn

The complainant in the case chose not to testify

Rhiannon Russell

Special to the News

A sexual-assault charge laid against a former Whitehorse cab driver has been withdrawn.

Jaspal Singh Tamber, 26, was scheduled to stand trial in Yukon Supreme Court this week for one count of sexual assault, alleged to have taken place in September 2017.

Jury selection for the trial occurred on Feb. 4, but the next day, Crown prosecutor Keith Parkkari said that he wouldn’t be presenting any evidence. The complainant, a 19-year-old woman, had chosen not to come to court to testify. Her identity is protected by a publication ban.

Parkkari said he received a message that she “intended to take care of herself and not come to court… Balancing [her] well-being with pursuing the case, the Crown is electing not to pursue a witness warrant.”

Before the trial, Justice James Williams had signed an order that the accused would not be present in the courtroom during the complainant’s testimony, and he’d instead appear via CCTV.

In 2017, Tamber was charged with kidnapping and two counts of sexual assault after two women, ages 30 and 19, reported being sexual assaulted in a taxi on Sept. 29 in two separate incidents.

Both told police that they had been approached by a taxi when they were walking, and the driver offered them a ride, even though they told him they didn’t have money for a cab. The younger woman told police she was taken to a rest area, where she was assaulted.

In May 2018, Tamber signed a peace bond for one of the sexual-assault charges. A peace bond is a court order that requires someone to abide by conditions; violating it is a criminal offence.

Tamber’s year-long peace bond requires him to stay away from the complainant, and he was not allowed to drive a taxi or present himself as a taxi driver for the first six months of the order.

His permit to drive a taxi was suspended by the City of Whitehorse in October 2017, shortly after his arrest.

“Mr. Tamber has always maintained his innocence,” Tamber’s lawyer, Rishi Gill, told reporters outside the courthouse on Tuesday after the proceedings ended.

“This has had enormous consequences for him. There’s been the expense of defending a case like this, there’s been public shame… What’s done is done. He’s going to move on.”

The kidnapping charge associated with the 19-year-old complainant was withdrawn prior to the trial.

As per Whitehorse’s vehicle-for-hire bylaw, someone seeking a permit to drive a taxi must have both a criminal-record check and vulnerable-sector check completed. Anyone convicted of a sexual offence, drug trafficking, homicide, kidnapping, or robbery won’t receive a permit.

But the city’s bylaw manager also may deny a permit based on additional circumstances. City spokesperson Myles Dolphin pointed to one such situation listed in the bylaw: if the manager “has the reasonable belief that granting a permit would pose a danger to the safety, health or welfare of the public.”

This section would be “under careful consideration,” given Tamber’s peace bond, Dolphin wrote in an email.

For people who have been sexually assaulted, there are community supports available.

Margaret O’Brien is the women’s legal advocate at Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, and she helps women navigate the justice system in different ways, whether they’re the victim of a crime, want to file a human-rights complaint, or are trying to get custody of their children.

“I consider sexual assaults a high priority, because it’s such a challenging position to be in and it’s difficult to deal with that and attend meetings on your own,” O’Brien says. “I am available. I can assist… even if it’s outside of the regular working hours of nine to five.”

Her assistance can be broad: She’ll help set up counselling, offer a ride to court, attend meetings with Crown prosecutors and RCMP, or explain the terminology lawyers use in the courtroom.

O’Brien works in Whitehorse and travels to the communities as well.

Contact Rhiannon Russell at editor@yukon-news.com

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