The distasteful conduct of a Federal Court Justice will be the subject of a public hearing, set to commence in September. Justice Robin Camp is under fire for comments that he made during a 2014 sexual assault trial, which he presided over during his time as a provincial court judge in Alberta.
In that trial, Camp preferred the evidence of the accused and acquitted him on charges of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a house party. In finding the accused's version of events more creditable, Camp questioned the woman's morals, called her "unsavoury" and mistakenly identified her as "the accused" at various times throughout the trial. The official court transcript also shows that he asked her "why couldn't you just keep your knees together?" as well as suggesting that sex and pain "go together."
Camp's verdict was later overturned on appeal and a new trial was ordered.
And -- as one could expect -- official complaints were subsequently forwarded to the Canadian Judicial Council. At this point, about 30 groups and individuals have complained about the judge's comments. Some are calling for Camp's removal from the bench altogether.
But -- so far -- that hasn't happened.
Instead, the Provincial Court judge was appointed to the Federal Court in June of last year.
While Camp's behaviour on the bench is absolutely disturbing, the fact that he was rewarded with an appointment to the Federal Court in spite of it only serves to exasperate the situation.
As a society, we must be able to trust that our judicial system and those in charge of it are up to the task.
Appointment aside, Justice Robin Camp is set to face a disciplinary committee on a total of six allegations -- stemming from that infamous 2014 trial -- and his job could be at stake. It is well within the committee's jurisdiction to recommend that Camp be removed from the bench altogether. If they do, then the recommendation would be put to a vote before the Canadian Judicial Council, and they would ultimately decide his fate.
Unsurprisingly, Camp wishes to avoid this course of action and preserve his position on the bench. He has attempted to reform himself. He has engaged in sensitivity training and counselling and, in doing so, has gained what he describes as a "deeper understanding" of the trauma faced by survivors of sexual assault. Camp has also written apology letters and intends to apologize, once again, in person at the disciplinary hearing.
Apologies and counselling, however, may not be enough in case.
Sex assault is underreported in our country and, even when it is, cases involving such assaults are notoriously difficult to successfully prosecute. This is due, in part, to the prevalence of harmful stereotypes about the nature of the crime and its victims. Crimes of this nature require a certain degree of sensitivity and deference. As a society, we must be able to trust that our judicial system and those in charge of it are up to the task.
If our judges are unable to approach the issue fairly and without prejudice, then we have to ask ourselves kind of example is set for the rest of society. If judges who have displayed discriminatory attitudes are allowed to remain on the bench -- and even be promoted in spite of it -- the public may lose faith in our justice system as a whole...and who could blame them?
The ability for an individual to make a mistake, learn from it and move forward is a central facet of our justice system. As a defence lawyer, I am well aware of the capacity that some people have for positive change.
However, our judges should be held to a higher standard. After all, they hold one of the most important and prestigious positions in civic society. They are the lynchpins of our justice system and are entrusted with great responsibility. Judges are expected to separate their personal beliefs from the case at hand. They are expected to remain impartial and decide facts based on the evidence. They must remain above the fray at all times while on the bench....and if they cannot, they have proven themselves to be unfit for the honour bestowed upon them.
In order to retain his position, Justice Camp should be required to satisfy the committee -- and the public to whom he is to be held accountable -- that he no longer holds the misogynistic views and discredited stereotypes that he voiced in 2014. It will not be an easy task. In my view, counselling and apologies do not go far enough.
But -- ultimately -- it will be up to the committee to decide.
The hearing is set to begin on September 6, 2016.
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