Christie Blatchford: Judge’s sex assault comments called ‘an education problem, not a character problem’



CALGARY — There are two Robin Camps, a lawyer for the judge who infamously asked a sexual assault complainant why she “couldn’t just keep her knees together,” told a federal inquiry Monday.

The committee of the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) is probing the conduct of the former Alberta Provincial Court judge, and can recommend he be removed from the bench.

That first Robin Camp, his lead lawyer Frank Addario told the panel, is the judge who made that remark — and others just as outrageous — to the teenage complainant in a 2014 sexual assault case he heard while still on the Alberta bench.

Camp was removed from active service from the Federal Court of Canada, where he was elevated in 2015, for a year and been “roundly denounced.”

And that period has produced the second Camp, the reformed man, Addario said, who “far from serving as the example for what’s wrong with the administration of justice” vis à vis sexual assault cases, should be seen as a symbol of what can happen with education.


Federal Court Justice Robin Camp arrives at a Canadian Judical Council inquiry in Calgary on Monday.

Addario and his co-counsel, Megan Savard, were making arguments why the 64-year-old Camp should be allowed to continue sitting as a judge.

Camp and the lawyers admit he is guilty of judicial misconduct for his reliance on discredited “rape myths,” his grotesque comments to the complainant, but say, as Addario put it in his written arguments, that he “had an education problem, not a character problem” – and that he’s fixed it now through intensive counselling and mentoring with three experts who testified here.

And as Savard said, Camp is “unique” in that “no other subject of a CJC inquiry has acknowledged responsibility so quickly or gone to the lengths he has to educate himself.”

Camp was tutored and counselled by a senior judge, a feminist law professor and a psychologist with expertise in trauma and the effects of sexual violence.

But Marjorie Hickey, the “presenting counsel” for the inquiry and the de facto prosecutor, said in effect there’s a third Camp, too – the fellow who has repeatedly apologized for his conduct and has been an eager and willing student in his own rehabilitation and may even be, as his character letters suggest, a kind, bright and empathetic man.

Yet despite all that, Hickey said, Camp failed to grasp laws in the Criminal Code — chiefly the rape shield laws designed to protect complainants in sex assault cases — that were hardly “obscure sections” of the code.

And that, she said, shakes the conscience of the community and undermines the confidence Canadians have in their judges.

She asked the panel to recommend Camp’s removal from his $314,000 a year job.

The recommendation, whatever it turns out to be, first goes to the full CJC group.

One of the lawyers on the inquiry, Cynthia Petersen, was uncomfortable with the unspoken suggestion that “Justice Camp should be made an example of to address the sins of others” in the justice system. “That doesn’t seem right to me,” Petersen said.

But, Hickey said, the real issue for the panel “is all about confidence in the judiciary,” and it can’t be divorced from the “social context of the moment … (Camp) is caught in that time frame, in that social context,” when sexual assault cases such as the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby matters are on the front burner.

Hickey said that in her view, “Justice Camp’s own words here at the inquiry” were the best evidence that he shouldn’t be allowed to remain on the bench.

At one point, for instance, though he has freely admitted his thinking was “infected” with unconscious sexism, he testified that that thinking wasn’t really sexist, but rather “old-fashioned.”

And on another occasion, Hickey pointed out, while apologizing yet again to the complainant in the 2014 case, he said, “The panel has seen her. She’s a fragile personality.”

That young woman, Hickey said, had “the courage” to go through a criminal trial and come to the inquiry to testify. The “fragile personality” description, she said, is another example of where Camp’s “language is concerning.”

Savard attributed those sorts of remarks, made by Camp in testimony here, to both his free-flowing interventionist style on the bench and the fact that he’s emerging from what amounts to a period of intensive therapy.

He “went off on a tangent,” she said at one point.

“But isn’t that exactly what you said he’s learned not to do?” Deborah Smith, associate chief judge for the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, asked. Savard admitted it was.

Addario told the panel that it’s “unrealistic to expect education to take root in less than a generation” after more than a century of sexist stereotyping about how sex assault complainants should behave. He urged the panel to resist the appeal of “the severe sanction” and instead recognize “how people, including judges, can be rehabilitated.”

But Hickey, quoting something Camp himself said in the witness box – that “Canadians deserve better of their judges” than his conduct – asked, “Don’t Canadians also deserve judges who, when they read the law, and say they understand it, apply it?”

The panel chair, Austin Cullen, associate Chief Justice of the B.C. Supreme Court, said the panel will report to the full CJC “as soon as we can.”