Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown, right, appears at a ceremony at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa in 2015.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A physical altercation is behind a complaint against Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown that has forced him off the bench indefinitely while a disciplinary process unfolds.

The altercation happened at an Arizona hotel – the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia – where Justice Brown had introduced former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, who was being given an award named after the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor.

“Lasting peace on earth remains among our most earnest aspirations,” Justice Brown said in that introduction before 125 guests at a gala dinner. “But achieving peace takes hard work. Human societies must strive and be led by leaders, real leaders, to find new paths towards prosperous and peaceful co-existence.”

Ms. Arbour told The Globe and Mail: “He made a wonderful speech.” She said she was not aware of any later incident involving Justice Brown.

Afterward, the 57-year-old, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper in 2015, went to a lounge in the hotel with some guests from the award dinner. At some point, he was invited to join a nearby table, Justice Brown said in a statement Friday.

In that statement – a response to a Vancouver Sun report quoting a man identified as Jon Crump, whom it described as a 31-year-old former Marine – Justice Brown said he was assaulted without provocation. (He referred to the man as Jonathan Crump.)

“We all left the lounge at roughly the same time,” he said Friday in the statement.

“Outside the lounge, Mr. Crump objected to me rejoining the group and suddenly, without warning or provocation, punched me several times in the head.”

Justice Brown is a stocky former rugby player who chose his initial law school, the University of Victoria, because of its rugby team. But he said he had no chance to prepare.

“Taken by surprise, I was unable to defend myself.”

In Mr. Crump’s account reported by the Vancouver Sun, Justice Brown was drinking, bragging and making the women at the table uncomfortable. He said Justice Brown followed the group to their room and, when Mr. Crump told him he was intoxicated and obnoxious, Justice Brown shoved him. Mr. Crump’s response, he says, was to punch the jurist twice in the face. Justice Brown fell down, and later, Mr. Crump called the Paradise Valley Police and reported Justice Brown. Police declined to lay a charge.

The police did not respond to The Globe’s requests for comment on Friday, and said the records department was closed till Monday. Mr. Crump also did not reply to The Globe’s requests for comment.

Mr. Brown said Mr. Crump’s account was “demonstrably false” and he suggested Mr. Crump had called police to avoid the possibility he himself would be charged.

“Approximately one hour after the assault, he called police and, in an apparent attempt to avoid facing the consequences of assaulting me, he falsely described me as the instigator.”

The altercation prompted a complaint on Jan. 29 to the Canadian Judicial Council, a disciplinary body. Chief Justice Richard Wagner placed Justice Brown on leave on Feb. 1, one day after being informed of the complaint.

Justice Brown added in his statement, without providing details: “The evidence I provided to the Council corroborates my account of the incident.”

And he said the incident has harmed him and the court. “This incident has caused me embarrassment and created complications for the Court. I am hopeful that the Council will resolve this matter expeditiously.” He has been on paid leave from his $403,300-a-year job since Feb. 1.

In a statement Friday, council spokeswoman Johanna Laporte indicated that the public statements have not thrown the council disciplinary process off course.

“The Council is proceeding in a timely way, and in accordance with its Review Procedures,” Ms. Laporte said.

Until now, the matter of Justice Brown’s conduct has been treated with the utmost secrecy. Chief Justice Wagner placed Justice Brown on leave without acknowledging to the profession or the public that he was gone.

The revelation that the complaint was about an altercation raises questions about the secrecy, as it is not clear that, even if it unfolded as described by Mr. Crump, the incident would warrant a recommendation of dismissal, Margot Young, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law, said.

“On the face of it, it is not apparent that all of this is necessary,” she said in an interview of the court’s decision to pull Justice Brown off the bench pending a disciplinary review.

Prof. Young said her first-year students have been gripped by the unfolding story. She has been teaching them that courts try to protect their legitimacy with the public by ensuring that their judges conduct themselves appropriately, on and off the bench.

In Mr. Crump’s allegations, which she says she does not take at face value, is an element of sexual harassment. If the allegations are true, “it may impair the force or legitimacy he has a judge.”

She added: “It may turn out to be a made-up, false justification for punching somebody. But it bears looking into.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe