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Recommendation to remove judge reflects rejection of stereotypes in sex abuse cases

Dec 1, 2016
An inquiry committee of the Canadian Judicial Council says a judge who asked a sexual assault complainant why she couldn't just keep her knees together should lose his job.

Court transcripts show Robin Camp also called the complainant ``the accused'' throughout the trial and told her ``pain and sex sometimes go together.''

Camp acquitted Alexander Wager in the 2014 trial, but the verdict was overturned on appeal and a new trial was ordered. Testimony in the retrial wrapped up earlier this month

``We conclude that Justice Camp's conduct ... was so manifestly and profoundly destructive of the concept of the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judicial role that public confidence is sufficiently undermined to render the judge incapable of executing the judicial office,'' the committee said in its recommendation released Wednesday.

``Accordingly, the inquiry committee expresses the unanimous view that a recommendation by council for Justice Camp's removal is warranted.''

The committee said Camp ``relied on discredited myths and stereotypes about women and victim-blaming during the trial and in his reasons for judgment.

``Accordingly, we find that Justice Camp committed misconduct and placed himself, by his conduct, in a position incompatible with the due execution of the office of judge.''

It's now up to the Canadian Judicial Council to decide whether the recommendation should be taken to the federal justice minister, who has final say on Camp's fate.

At a hearing earlier this year, Camp apologized for what he called his rude and insulting attitude toward the then-19-year-old woman when he was a provincial court judge in Calgary.

``I was not the good judge I thought I was,'' Camp said. ``Canadians deserve more from their judges.''

The complainant, who can't be named under a publication ban, told the hearing that she had contemplated suicide after what happened at the initial  trial.

``He made me hate myself and he made me feel like I should have done something ... that I was some kind of slut,'' she said.

The committee heard that Camp had undergone sensitivity training and counselling with a superior court judge, a psychologist and an expert in sexual assault law. He admitted in testimony that he had made mistakes, but said he was willing to learn from them and wanted to remain on the bench.

Camp's lawyer sought to paint a portrait of a ``complex human being'' who is humble, tolerant and remorseful.

``He's fair. He's accommodating,'' Frank Addario said. ``He's motivated to learn and get better.''

Addario said removing Camp would send the wrong message to other judges who seek to improve themselves.

But Camp's efforts after the trial don't make up for his comments, the committee said.

``In these circumstances, the impact of an after-the-fact commitment to education and reform as an adequate remedial measure is significantly diminished.''

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto civil litigator Richard Shekter, partner with Shekter Dychtenberg LLP, says removing a judge is “exceedingly rare,” and the committee’s recommendation to do so underscores that judges must be seen as people of integrity, impartiality and judgment. 

“Since the inception of the Canadian Judicial Council in 1971, this has only been done twice,” he says. As our courts have said on many occasions,  justice must not only be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done.”

Despite the judge’s attempt to demonstrate he had learned from his mistakes and had taken sensitivity courses to rectify the problem, the Council essentially determined that was too little too late, Shekter adds.

“The damage done by the judge in undermining the public's confidence in the judicial system was determined by the Council to be too compelling to allow him to continue to sit. Clearly, in the view of the Council, the integrity of the judicial system is too important to permit this kind of behaviour to be left unpunished, he says.

In cases of sexual abuse, Shekter points out that society will no longer tolerate the myths and stereotypes propagated over the last 100 years, and that many current decisions reflect that.

“Justice Bertha Wilson, the first female justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, began the process of the court’s rejecting these kinds of stereotypes in her seminal decisions years ago. The Judicial Council has made clear it will not tolerate, in this millennium, the continuation of such stereotypes; a welcomed decision by a great many Canadians. An unwelcome decision, certainly, by Justice Camp,” he notes.

Shekter says this case will undoubtedly serve as a cautionary tale to those judges holding similar views as Camp.

“Hopefully, there are very few judges left who still hold to these views, let alone express them from the bench.   A strong and independent judiciary, however, requires that such views are no longer  articulated in the clear light of day,” he says. 

– With files from AdvocateDaily.com

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