A 12-person jury has convicted a Skip the Dishes driver of sexually assaulting a Kelowna woman during a May 2021 delivery.
Hamid Al Derghams' week-long sexual assault trial began last week, and saw testimony from the female victim, the victim's friend, two police officers, and Al Dergham himself. After the jury began deliberating earlier Thursday, they returned their unanimous verdict just a few hours later.
The woman, who's identity is protected under a publication ban, said Al Dergham delivered her a McDonald's order on the evening of May 3, 2021 while she sat on her back patio. She said he sat down and spoke with her for a brief period, before he reached out and grabbed at her crotch, attempted to kiss her neck and mouth, and grabbed her right breast.
She testified he told her he wanted to come back to her house after his shift ended later that night, causing her to stay at a friend's house that night out of fear.
But after Al Dergham left the house, he began messaging her on WhatsApp, asking her to send him photos of herself and if he could come back to her house in the early morning hours of May 4. The woman didn't receive the messages until the next day, as her phone had died.
She testified that she assumed he got her phone number through the Skip the Dishes app, as previous drivers had called her phone when they couldn't find her location.
When he then called her phone on the afternoon of May 4, the woman declined the call, but messaged him: “Stop contacting me” and “I ordered food, not to be sexually assaulted.”
Al Dergham replied: “I'm sorry, it didn't happen anymore.” He later testified that he had used a translator app to send the message, and he had meant to say “Sorry, this will not happen again.”
While Crown prosecutor Catherine Gagnon told the jury Al Dergham's message was an apology for, and an admission to, the sexual assault, Al Dergham said he was only apologizing for messaging her.
Al Dergham's version of the events of the evening in question was that he delivered the food to the woman and began talking with her, through a translator app on his phone. Al Dergham is from Syria, and says he speaks little English.
He said the woman put her phone number in his phone and told him to message her. He said the woman asked him for help, and he assumed she meant help with gardening or lifting heavy things. She adamantly denied she ever put her number in his phone.
He denied he ever touched her while they chatted on her back patio.
Crown prosecutor Gagnon said Al Dergham's version of events is not “consistent with common sense.”
Ultimately, the jury appears to have agreed with Gagnon. The 12 jurors ruled the Crown proved its case against Al Dergham beyond a reasonable doubt and convicted him of sexual assault.
Al Dergham remains out of custody and a sentencing date will be set at a later date. A presentence report will be prepared for Al Dergham prior to the sentencing hearing, and sentencing is expected to come some time in July.
It's not clear just how the conviction will impact Al Dergham's immigration status in Canada.
Skip the Dishes never responded to Castanet's inquiry last week about whether Al Dergham remains employed by the company.