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Canada Judge cites new empathy on sexual assault ahead of disciplinary hearing

A judge who asked an alleged rape victim why she didn't simply keep her knees together says that sensitivity training has given him new empathy and that he is still fit to be a judge.

"His counselling has given him a deeper understanding of the trauma faced by survivors of sexual assault and about the discriminatory history of sexual assault law," Frank Addario, a lawyer representing Federal Court Justice Robin Camp, said in response to judicial misconduct charges to be heard in September.

The weeklong public hearing will be Canada's first disciplinary review of a judge's conduct during a sexual assault trial.

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Justice Camp – who before his appointment to the Federal Court was a provincial court judge in Alberta and head of the specialized Domestic Violence Court in Calgary – faces six allegations stemming from the 2014 trial, including belittling sexual assault victims, demeaning the prosecutor, advancing rape myths and stereotypes, and showing antipathy to the law on sexual assault, in particular its courtroom protections for vulnerable victims.

The hearing, to begin in Calgary on Sept. 6, comes at a time of heightened concern about underreporting by victims of sexual assault, and as trials such as that of former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi have focused attention on courtroom dynamics.

"This is the first disciplinary hearing that engages directly with a judge's conduct of a sexual assault trial," Emma Cunliffe, a professor at the University of British Columbia's Peter A. Allard School of Law, said in an interview.

"I think there's a widely held sense among those who work in the field of sexual assault and conduct research in it that victims are being underserved by the Canadian justice system, in spite of the fact that the law on sexual assault looks pretty good. The question that remains is how can we change the culture of the Canadian legal system in such a way that victims are better protected."

The two-man, three-woman committee conducting the hearing could recommend Justice Camp's removal from the bench. If it does, the recommendation would be put to a vote of the Canadian Judicial Council, comprising chief justices and other senior judges. Removal has been recommended for only three federally appointed judges. The previous one was Paul Cosgrove in 2009, and he resigned.

In the case before Justice Camp in 2014, the alleged victim, homeless and 19, weighed 100 pounds fewer than the accused attacker, Alexander Wagar. In its notice of allegations, the inquiry committee cites nearly 100 lines of the courtroom transcript, which include comments from the judge such as: "Why didn't [she] just sink [her] bottom down into the basin so he couldn't penetrate [her]?" and "Why couldn't [she] just keep [her] knees together?"

Justice Camp acquitted Mr. Wagar. His comments came to light when the Alberta Court of Appeal threw out the acquittal, citing the judge's use of rape myths and stereotypes.

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In his written response to the allegations, Mr. Addario said on behalf of the judge: "Justice Camp agrees that he asked her these questions. Justice Camp did not blame the complainant for the sexual assault. He admits these questions were asked in insensitive and inappropriate language. He has apologized unreservedly for his choice of language. He will not ask questions this way again."

Justice Camp says he will apologize again at the hearing, and that he has undertaken counselling and training from Justice Deborah McCawley of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, clinical psychologist Lori Haskell and University of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossman.

"He believes his training, counselling and this process as a whole have left him better equipped to judge cases with the empathy, wisdom and sensitivity to social context to which all judges aspire. He now understands that some of his prior thinking was infected by stereotypical beliefs and discredited myths," Mr. Addario wrote.

Justice Camp received his law degree in 1975 in South Africa. He was called to the bar in Alberta in 1999, and practised largely in the area of commercial litigation. He was appointed a provincial court judge in 2012, and in June, 2015, was promoted by the former Conservative government to the Federal Court, a job that as of April 1 pays $314,100 a year. At the direction of Chief Justice Paul Crampton, he has not been hearing any cases until his disciplinary case is resolved.

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