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Forget re-education, we should expect more from our judges

Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former NDP national director and a regular panelist on CBC's Power & Politics.

Finally, belatedly, after a judicial disciplinary body recommended his removal, Justice Robin Camp got the message and resigned from the federal bench. Try as I might, I can find in me little sympathy for the man. If his life is now ruined, he has no one but himself to blame.

Since the rape trial at which he presided so ignorantly, many had argued for the need to educate Mr. Camp in the ways of women and the world. Several feminist scholars were even brought in to give him what was called "in-depth counselling" – a kind of crash course, I guess, on modern women. Three of them decided that he was genuinely interested in changing.

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I don't buy it. It's far too late. The same goes for his colleague in Halifax, Judge Gregory Lenehan, who in his recent ruling on a sex assault case said "a drunk can consent." Right. Even when they're found unconscious in the back of a cab and had peed themselves.

Who are these judges? Have they been on Mars? Do they represent the male judges at the pinnacle of our criminal justice system? Were they unconscious while the endless struggle for women's equality and a woman's right to be respected played out as front-page news?

Remember what Mr. Camp said. Repeatedly through the trial, he called the complainant "the accused." Sounds impossible, but it's true. He obviously regarded her as the one being accused of the crime of false testimony. Then, of course, came his sage advice that she could have prevented her assault by keeping her knees together.

Here's the thing. Robin Camp has a wife and grownup daughter, who were supportive of him during his trial. Yet given the appalling statistics, it's perfectly possible that they have been or could still be victims of sexual abuse. Would he talk to them that way? Would he humiliate them by implying that they could have saved themselves had they truly wanted to? Had he learned nothing about the world his daughter lives in?

I don't believe for a moment that re-education is the answer for someone who ignored the obvious unmistakeable lessons of mass culture over the years. Is he oblivious to the fact that the Prime Minister proudly calls himself a feminist? To the shocking murder and disappearance of so many indigenous women? Did the entire Jian Ghomeshi case waft over him like a cloud over the oil fields? Has he never heard of Donald Trump? Has he missed all those huge women's marches? Mr. Camp couldn't begin to pass Kellie Leitch's test for Canadian values.

Experts like law professor Constance Backhouse tell us that "our legal system still remains mired in 19th-century stereotypes about women." And interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose has introduced a private member's bill aimed at improving judicial training in sex-assault cases. Hooray for that; it's a useful initiative. Mr. Camp himself says he acted "out of ignorance." But better education wouldn't have changed things. The scandal triggered by him is not based on legal errors caused by inadequate professional development.

It's not the law he was ignorant about. It's modern life. It's common sense and reason both. No legislation or retraining is needed for a judge to understand that large numbers of men criminally assault large numbers of women because they believe they're entitled to and can get away with it.

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Justice Camp was a university graduate; a well-paid professional. We have the right to expect judges like him to be aware of their surroundings. Of basic morality. When asked why his cabinet was gender-balanced, the Prime Minister said, simply, "Because it's 2015." Everyone, but everyone, knew what he meant. No special courses were required by anyone.

We have the right to have common-sense expectations about our judges. If they fail us, it's gone judge gone.

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