A former Yellowknife taxi driver appealed his assault conviction Tuesday in the NWT Supreme Court as he alleges that a witness was not being truthful on the stand.
In May 2018, Matar Mahamed Mahamud was convicted of assault causing bodily harm after one of his taxi passengers was left with two black eyes and a bloody nose.
A year prior, in July 2017, Mahamud picked up a passenger from the Kilt and Castle pub in downtown Yellowknife. Mahamud drove the man to McDonald’s and then to his apartment at Ciara Manor.
When the cab arrived at the apartment building, a dispute over payment erupted between the driver and passenger. The man’s only form of payment was debit. Mahamud, however, was not able to accept debit.
The driver and passenger disagree on what happened next.
In the victim’s version of events, which Judge Garth Malakoe accepted after the 2018 trial, the passenger suggested they go to an ATM, but Mahamud kept repeating, “You have to pay me now.” The victim said he offered the driver his contact information, work address, and shift hours, and volunteered to see him the next day if Mahamud did not want to immediately go to an ATM.
Finally the passenger told Mahamud, “You can see me tomorrow or not, but I am getting out of the cab now.” When he exited the cab, he said Mahamud got out of the car as well.
There was a “bit of a struggle” between the two men and the passenger pulled out his phone and told Mahamud he was going to call the cops. He said Mahamud then “smacked the phone out of his hands, “grabbed (him) and started hitting him.”
The victim said Mahamud then threw him to the ground, continued hitting him, and then drove off.
Another resident of Ciara Manor testified as a witness to the altercation.
During the trial, she told the court that from her second-floor apartment she saw two men matching the victim and Mahamud’s descriptions on the night of the incident.
She said she saw a man punch another man on the ground three times before driving away in an Aurora taxi. She was not able to get to her phone’s camera in time to take a photo of the cab. She could hear the man on the ground, crying, call the RCMP.
In Mahamud’s testimony, he said his passenger was “aggressive” upon entering his cab and was “insulting” to a McDonald’s employee. When the passenger asked if Mahamud accepted debit and the driver told him he did not, Mahamud said he offered to take the passenger to an ATM at no extra cost.
Mahamud told the court that when the passenger told him he was not going to pay and left the cab, Mahamud was going to let him go as passengers occasionally don’t pay their fares. He said the man then exited the car and opened the driver’s door. Mahamud said he got out of the car, afraid the passenger “wanted to attack him.” He said the man kicked him, so he grabbed his shoulders and while pushing him off in self-defence, the man fell to the ground.
He said he then called the police. The line was busy, so he said he went to the police station and called again.
Accusation of lying
In his trial decision, Malakoe said he rejected Mahamud’s account as it did not account for the victim’s injuries.
In his appeal Tuesday, Mahamud, representing himself, told the court he’s innocent. With the help of a Sudanese interpreter, he said that the passenger and witness had “talked together,” and were “lying” about the events of the night in question.
Mahamud pointed to one comment the witness made in her testimony when she said others were watching the assault from outside the building. Mahamud said the court should hear from those witnesses.
Crown prosecutor Billi Wun said Tuesday that there was no way of identifying those people and that there “is no evidence of what those people saw or did not see.” As a result, suggesting other witnesses would help Mahamud’s case is “speculation,” said Wun.
“The Crown’s submission is that the trial judge did not commit any error in coming to his decision,” he said. “There is no miscarriage of justice here.”
Justice Shannon Smallwood is set to render her decision of the appeal on Jan. 25.
If Malakoe’s original decision is upheld, Mahamud faces eight months of house arrest followed by 12 months of probation. His taxi licence has been revoked in the interim.