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British Columbia judge’s handling of sexual-assault trial sparks complaint

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Leask reportedly sped up a sexual-assault trial and told lawyers at the out-of-town courthouse he would like to sleep in his own bed.

Wesley VanDinter/Getty Images

A British Columbia judge who reportedly sped up a sexual-assault trial and told lawyers at the out-of-town courthouse he would like to sleep in his own bed has had a complaint filed against him, alleging his conduct suggests "sexual assault charges will not be treated seriously by the courts."

The complaint against B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Leask comes amid heightened scrutiny over the handling of sexual-assault cases by judges. An Alberta judge who asked a complainant why she did not keep her knees together and mocked the law of consent resigned earlier this month, after a Canadian Judicial Council panel recommended his removal. A Nova Scotia judge has had multiple complaints filed against him after he recently acquitted a taxi driver of sexually assaulting a female passenger and said "a drunk can consent."

The complaint against Justice Leask – who was admonished by the judicial council a decade ago for cursing in the courtroom – was filed Thursday by Benjamin Perrin, an associate professor of law at the University of British Columbia who also served as an adviser in the Prime Minister's Office.

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Mr. Perrin's 14-page complaint stems from comments Justice Leask, who typically works in Vancouver, is said to have made earlier this week during a trial in Kamloops, 350 kilometres northeast and in the B.C. Interior.

"One of the main reasons victims don't report crime, according to the research, is that they lack confidence in the criminal justice system," Mr. Perrin said in an interview. "And incidents like these allegations have a very serious risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice and just contributing further to this very serious problem we have with the lack of an adequate response to sexual-assault cases in Canada." The newspaper Kamloops This Week quoted Justice Leask as saying on Monday, when the trial began, that the judiciary was "extremely shorthanded." It said he urged the parties to complete the two-week trial in five days and said, "I like sleeping in my own bed." The newspaper reported charges in the case were stayed the next day, with the Crown saying only it could no longer prove its case.

The Crown, in a statement Thursday, said the decision to stay the charges was made after a full and careful review of the evidence. It said the decision was not influenced by any comments made by the judge.

"If, at any point, the prosecutor concludes that the evidentiary standard is no longer met or that a prosecution is no longer required in the public interest, a prosecution cannot proceed. In this case the prosecutor concluded the test was no longer met and directed the stay of proceedings," Dan McLaughlin, spokesperson for the Criminal Justice Branch, wrote in a statement.

B.C. Attorney-General Suzanne Anton in a statement wrote Justice Leask's comments – "ill-considered as they appear to be" – did not affect the outcome of the case.

Justice Leask could not be reached for comment.

The court registry said a publication ban is in effect in the case.

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Charlene Eden, agency co-ordinator for the Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre, described the judge's reported comments as "insensitive."

"It sets a tone. In this case, he made it very clear that his personal needs perhaps were more important than fair process and due process and the rights of the complainant," she said in an interview.

Mr. Perrin, in his complaint, said Justice Leask's alleged comment about sleeping in his own bed was "at best a bad joke and at worst an indication that he was not taking his job as a judge seriously."

Johanna Laporte, a Canadian Judicial Council spokesperson, in a statement confirmed it had received a complaint involving Justice Leask. Ms. Laporte said the council's executive director determined the matter warranted consideration and it would be referred to a conduct committee for review. She said 80 per cent of complaints are reviewed within three months, though some are complex and may take longer.

The federal Department of Justice, when asked about the B.C. judiciary being shorthanded, in a statement wrote a judicial advisory committee is "working in an expedited manner to review applications in order to identify highly qualified candidates for the bench."

"Vacant positions in British Columbia will be filled in short order. The goal is to have a judiciary that is representative of the diversity of our country," the statement read.

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