This week, in a 5-0 vote, a committee set up by the Canadian Judicial Council ruled that Federal Court Justice Robin Camp should be removed from the bench.
Some of you may remember Justice Camp, who I wrote about last year, as the judge who, while presiding over the case of Alexander Wagar, a man accused of raping a 19-year-old woman, asked the complainant (or "accused" as he liked to call her, repeatedly) if she had really not consented to sex with the (actual) accused. "Why didn't you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn't penetrate you?"
"Men do react to challenges and women give challenges … there's nothing necessarily malign in that," he said, and I tried to imagine similar attitude being applied to a different kind of crime.
Would a judge who chortled, "Bank robbers do react to challenges and banks do give challenges and there's nothing necessarily malign in blowing the odd safe, injuring a few guards and making away with millions," stay on the bench? Would we accept "Many banks let people withdraw cash all the time" as an explanation?
In a similar vein, Justice Camp mused in this case that "Sex and pain sometimes go together, that – that's not necessarily a bad thing." He said this despite the fact that, he had acknowledged, in the words of this week's report, "that the complainant had clearly conveyed that she was not enjoying the pain."
I doubt a judge would slap a mugger on the back and give him a wink and a nod because, while evidence suggested that the accused did brutally assault the victim, the injured man was out for a run and sometimes people say of a workout, "No pain, no gain."
"She certainly had the ability, perhaps learnt from her experience on the streets, to tell [him] to fuck off," Justice Camp said of a small woman who had, allegedly, been locked inside a bathroom with a 240-pound man intent on raping her.
I can only say that if profanity had the kind of power Justice Camp seems to attribute to it, I myself would be Queen of the Universe by now. I'd be lounging on my throne on a cloud while my minions brought me clusters of grapes artfully arranged to spell out curse words in fine grape-calligraphy.
If foul language had the potency with which Justice Camp credits it, I know that, stuck in traffic with some jackass honking behind me, I could move the tides.
As a result of a complaint made by Alberta's Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley about this case, the Canadian Judicial Council convened a public hearing during which Justice Camp expressed remorse for his "why couldn't you just keep your knees together" comment, which he called "unforgivable."
In this judgement, and pretty much this judgement alone, I'm prepared to take his word. Justice Camp, who acquitted the accused, does not seem to have been asked to express a Princess and the Pea level of sensitivity to the plaintiff in this case. One senses he could have gotten away with a "Saw an After-school Special About This Kind of Thing Once" level of empathy for her and a "Binge-watched Season 2 of Law and Order" comprehension of the current state of laws concerning sexual assault, but neither of these seemed to have been present.
The acquittal was later overturned (this means the complainant must endure another trial) by the Alberta Court of Appeal, which found that "Justice Camp's conduct of the Trial and his Reasons for Judgement disclosed errors of law." Thankfully, his behaviour – which included a world-weary "I hope you don't live too long, Ms. Mograbee," in response to the Crown prosecutor's remark about the judge's "antiquated thinking" regarding sexual assault – was brought to the public's attention and the appropriate disciplinary steps were taken.
I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall of that Canadian Judicial Council appointed committee meeting when the final draft of this report was put to paper. Okay, truth be told, I'd like to be a fly on any wall because, well, flight. That would be neat, but had I been any sort of winged insect at these particular meetings I would have been able to both fly and hear how the wording of the committee's final report was hammered out.
Frankly, I'm impressed by their self-control.
During the trial, Justice Camp opined that limits on admitting evidence of the complainant's sexual history "hamstring the defence." Yet somehow the two lawyers and three judges who conducted the inquiry managed to remain temperate and write only that "His comments were gratuitous and stemmed from a limited understanding of what he was so quick to criticize. Moreover his criticisms were not based on thoughtful analysis nor even any analysis at all."
I would have gone with "Jesus wept."
Given that it was noted that Justice Camp mocked the very notion of consent by asking if there are "any particular words you must use like the marriage ceremony," it's to the committee members' credit that they did not simply write "WTF?" in large letters across one page and all head out for a well-earned drink. To be honest, I'm flat-out awed the report doesn't contain a spit-take and that somehow the sentence "… we find that throughout the trial, Justice Camp made comments or asked questions evidencing an antipathy towards laws designed to protect vulnerable witnesses, promote equality, and bring integrity to sexual assault trials" was penned instead.
"The complainant and the accused's morality, their sense of values, leaves a lot to be desired," was another one of Justice Camp's gems but somehow the words "AAAAGGGGHHHH!" and "head desk" were left out of the committee's findings. The statement, "We also find that the Judge relied on discredited myths and stereotypes about women" was borderline-miraculously employed instead.
According to the prominent judge, the law professor and the psychotherapist who testified before the hearing about the counselling he was given after his comments made headlines, Justice Camp was a model student.
All three tutors were women and we're told he was respectful towards them but I can't help being reminded of Justice Camp's remarks to the the actual accused in the Wagar trial. He urged the alleged rapist to tell his male friends that they had to be "more gentle" and patient with women, to "protect themselves." (Italics my own, and rather dear to my heart.)
I wonder – we should all wonder – whether three 19-year-old homeless Indigenous women would have received the same level of respect and attention as the three professional women who – unlike both the accused and the plaintiff in the Wagar case, and every other case he might adjudicate – had power over Justice Camp's fate.
I find it hard to believe that when they reviewed the bit of the court transcript where Justice Camp referred to an alleged rape as "misbehaviour," no one in that room yelled, "He was a model student? A model from what year? 1890? Are we sure this guy didn't graduate from U of Under A Rock? Going to summer school can't remedy this."
The committee managed to not write down the obvious response of, "Hell, no! No one will ever take the court system in this country seriously again if we say this guy's been tutored and is good to go back to judging. The public's faith in the court system won't be restored because we announce a judge now has the basic knowledge of the law he was presumed to have had when he was appointed, much of which could have been garnered by picking up a paper some time in the last 30 years. We can't just say 'This fine fellow suddenly realizes that law applies to, and should protect all Canadians, regardless of how "unsavoury" [a descriptor Camp applied liberally to the witness] he finds them. He's caught right up!'"
Instead, the report contains the restrained conclusion that "… in the particular circumstances of this inquiry, education – including social context education – cannot adequately repair the damage caused to public confidence.…" And it's not even in all-caps.
"Justice Camp's conduct in the Wagar trial was so manifestly and profoundly destructive of the concept of the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judicial role that public confidence is sufficiently undermined to render the Judge incapable of executing the judicial office," they wrote, and more power to them.
It's not yet known whether or not the judicial council will act on the committee's recommendation that Justice Robin Camp (who, when he appeared before the Judicial Council, continued to refer to the complainant as "the accused") be removed from the bench. This recommendation has only been made twice since the body was created in 1971.
I would say the kind of contrition his conduct demands can only be expressed in a resignation and that is something Justice Camp has said he will not and so here we are. It remains to be seen how seriously the report's recommendation is ultimately taken but in the meanwhile, at least, that recommendation on its own has gone some way towards restoring my faith in our judicial system.
It made me wonder how they'd managed to not click "send" on the version that contained the word… anyway, I'll just click send and get this to my editor now.