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Federal Justice Camp is facing public inquiry

Thursday, January 21, 2016 @ 7:00 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Suspended Federal Court Justice Robin Camp faces a Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) public inquiry into his mishandling of a 2014 sexual assault case that could lead to his removal from the bench.

At press time, the embattled former Alberta Provincial Court judge had yet to publicly disclose whether he plans to fight for his job in what could be arduous disciplinary proceedings before the council of 39 chief and associate chief justices, or throw in the towel and resign.

His counsel, prominent Toronto criminal lawyer Frank Addario, whose firm specializes in “legal and reputational defence,” had not responded to queries before deadline.

Elevated to the national trial court last June by the Harper government, Justice Camp is under fire for his statements that are said to reflect sexual stereotyping and rape myths, question the rape shield law, and misapprehend the law of consent in Calgary provincial court sexual assault proceedings that were criticized by the Alberta Court of Appeal, which overturned the accused’s acquittal and ordered a new trial in 2014.

The case prompted University of Calgary associate law dean Alice Woolley, and law professors Jennifer Koshan of the University of Calgary and Elaine Craig and Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University, to make a written complaint to the CJC about “Justice Camp’s sexist and disrespectful treatment of the complainant in the case and his disregard for the law applicable to sexual assault.”

The CJC’s inquiry was announced Jan. 7 at the behest of Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, who told the council that she considers the judge unfit to remain on the bench.

“In my respectful opinion, the conduct of Justice Camp throughout the proceedings in R. v. Wagar was so manifestly and profoundly destructive of the concept of the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judicial role that public confidence has been sufficiently undermined to render Justice Camp incapable of executing his judicial office,” Ganley wrote the CJC Dec. 22.

The Camp inquiry marks only the seventh time in the CJC’s 45-year history that a justice minister has exercised her statutory authority to require a formal inquiry into alleged judicial misconduct.

Ganley did so after Woolley and the other law professors wrote to her and federal Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould asking the ministers to exercise their power.

Wilson-Raybould declined to do so, which was not surprising since, as federal minister of justice, she will have to decide what to do if the CJC ultimately recommends Justice Camp’s removal.

Only Parliament can vote to remove a federally appointed judge — which has never happened.

Judges have always resigned in rare cases where the CJC has recommended removal — as the council did in 2009 after former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant mandated an inquiry into Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Cosgrove’s anti-Crown bias and abuse of judicial powers during a murder trial.

Unlike Cosgrove — who only acknowledged the error of his professional ways four years into vigorously defending the CJC’s discipline proceedings — Justice Camp publicly acknowledged and apologized in writing for his actions, soon after they hit the headlines late last year.

The judge agreed at that time to “undertake a program of gender sensitivity counseling at his own expense and on his own time in order to understand more fully the implications and significance of his comments before the Provincial Court of Alberta, and he will ensure that he does not make similar comments in the future,” a Federal Court press release said.

The judge has not been assigned any judicial duties since last November.

His impugned conduct in Wagar included repeatedly calling the 19-year-old complainant “the accused” and asking the 100-pound homeless woman why she didn’t “keep your knees together” — or grind her hips into the bathroom sink to stop penetration — if she did not want to have intercourse and oral sex on the bathroom counter with a 6’1,” 240-pound acquaintance. He followed her into a bathroom during a house party.

University of Manitoba law professor Karen Busby said the judge’s comments were shocking, but compared how the council has dealt with Justice Camp’s case so far with its more lenient handling of Manitoba Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Dewar’s actions, which included calling a man convicted of sexual assault a “clumsy Don Juan” and commenting that “sex was in the air” in sparing him jail.

In Justice Camp’s case, the CJC quickly escalated the matter to an internal review committee, even before Ganley mandated a full-fledged public inquiry which could potentially trigger the judge’s removal.

By contrast, despite public protests over Justice Dewar’s actions, his misconduct never got beyond the CJC’s vice-chair of professional conduct.

Justice Dewar returned to his job after apologizing and taking what the council called “active steps to improve his understanding of gender equality issues” following his public remarks.

The CJC said the remarks were seen as insensitive to sexual assault victims, reflected negative and outdated gender stereotypes, cast blame on the victim, and showed an unacceptable gender bias against women.

“Is [the Camp] case similar enough…that the outcome should be the same as the Dewar case?” queried Busby. “Or is the conduct more egregious, and are we in a different time such that there should be a call for his removal or resignation?”

She noted the judge has moved to a court where issues of sexual assault arise less often (although they do come up, especially in refugee cases), “so I suspect he won’t be removed for this.”

At the end of the day, “I hope that what we get [from the CJC] is some kind of strong decision on what might happen in the future if judges continue to make these kinds of mistakes,” Busby observed. “But I don’t think we’re going to see a recommendation for removal.”

Woolley and the other law professors say in their CJC complaint that Justice Camp did not merely err as a judge, but rather displayed a “disregard for legality” that undermined the rule of law and brought the administration of justice into disrepute.