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‘Knees together’ judge one step closer to being kicked off bench

The recommendations come with the council in deliberations following a disciplinary hearing for Federal Court Justice Robin Camp.

TRIBUNAL FEDERAL DE CANADA/ ANDREW BALFOUR

A judge who asked the complainant in a rape trial why she didn't keep her knees together stands to become the first federally appointed judge to be kicked off the bench over his conduct of a sex-assault trial, after a disciplinary body's unanimous recommendation on Wednesday that he be removed.

The recommendation comes despite attempts by Justice Robin Camp of the Federal Court to pursue in-depth education on the psychology of victims and counselling aimed at helping him understand his biases. He has also offered a public apology and admission that he had formerly held deeply sexist notions.

But in a strong message to the judiciary, the legal community and Canadians at large, the two-men, three-women panel said Justice Camp had harmed confidence in sexual-assault cases after the courts and Parliament had spent four decades trying to enhance it. The only way that harm could be repaired was for him to go, according to the panel established by the Canadian Judicial Council.

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"Given the seriousness of Justice Camp's misconduct, his apologies, though sincere, do not alleviate the harm done to public confidence," the panel, chaired by Associate Chief Justice Austin Cullen of the B.C. Supreme Court, wrote in its 112-page ruling.

"We conclude that Justice Camp's conduct is 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 panel said the comment about the accuser keeping her knees together and a similar question "implied rebukes to the complainant for not resisting."

Of a remark to a female prosecutor in the case – "I hope you don't live too long" – the panel said that the judge was expressing a view that Canadian sex-assault law meant to protect victims from rape myths and stereotypes was wrong-headed and would some day change.

"His comments are reasonably understood as being disparaging of legislative attempts to remove discredited myths from sexual assault law."

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Justice Camp's comments in the 2014 sex-assault trial of Alexander Wagar in Alberta Provincial Court came to light last fall, when the Alberta Court of Appeal threw out his acquittal of Mr. Wagar, saying it reflected myths and stereotypes about sex-assault victims. Justice Camp, by that time a member of the Federal Court, has not heard new cases since then. Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley made a formal complaint that triggered this fall's public hearing.

The judicial panel's ruling is not the last stage of the process. A larger group of chiefs and associate chief justices will review the recommendation. If they, too, recommend removal, the matter will still require votes by the House of Commons and the Senate; the difficulty of the removal reflects the importance of judicial independence.

The Canadian Judicial Council has recommended the removal of just two judges since its creation in 1971: Quebec judge Jean Bienvenue, who in convicting a woman of murdering her husband, said she caused more suffering than the Nazis did to Jews at Auschwitz; and Ontario judge Paul Cosgrove, also for his handling of a murder ruling. Both resigned before the recommendations reached Parliament.

Justice Camp, a married father of three still a decade from the mandatory retirement age of 75, said through his lawyer Frank Addario of Toronto that he is grateful to the panel for its thorough consideration of the evidence and his submissions. Justice Camp declined to say more.

Ms. Ganley called the recommendation "an important step forward to reinforce the way our courts should approach sexual-assault cases." Kim Stanton, litigation director of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, said the unanimous decision "sends a very strong message to other judges, legal actors and survivors that the kind of conduct engaged in by Justice Camp is completely unacceptable."

Alice Woolley, the president of the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics and a law professor at the University of Calgary who (with three other professors) filed the first complaint against Justice Camp, said she is especially pleased with "the affirmation that sexism has no place in Canadian courtrooms."

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But University of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossman, a leading feminist scholar who testified in the disciplinary hearing on Justice Camp's behalf, expressed disappointment with the recommendation.

"I would like to be able to value and affirm those who are open to learning from their mistakes, and affirm the power of education over the power of punishment," she said in an interview. She had given Justice Camp, who moved to Canada from South Africa in the 1990s, lessons on the history and purpose of Canadian reforms to sex-assault law after he was subject to public complaints over his conduct.

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