'I made a mistake': Disgraced former judge Robin Camp seeks reinstatement to practise law

Camp's conduct in 2014 sex assault trial led to recommendation he be removed from Alberta bench

Posted: November 14, 2017
Last Updated: November 14, 2017

Former judge Robin Camp is petitioning the Law Society of Alberta to be allowed to practise law again. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The former judge who resigned over his treatment of a sexual assault complainant is qualified to practise law again, but allowing him to do so could harm the reputation of the legal profession, a Law Society of Alberta panel heard Tuesday.

The regulatory body that sets the standards for Alberta lawyers is holding a reinstatement hearing for Robin Camp. He ignited controversy as a provincial court judge in a sexual assault trial in 2014 when he asked the complainant why she didn't resist an alleged rape by simply keeping her "knees together."


He also implied during the trial that the complainant — who alleged she had been raped on a bathroom sink — could have prevented the attack by "sinking her bottom down into the basin."

Camp also mistakenly referred to her as "the accused" on several occasions during the trial and stated that "sometimes sex and pain go together."

His handling of the trial prompted an inquiry in 2016 by the Canadian Judicial Council, and Camp fought to keep his new job as a Federal Court judge. However, he ultimately decided to resign in March this year after the council recommended he be removed from the bench.

Camp is now seeking to be reinstated as a lawyer in Alberta.

"Applications such as this are rare," Law Society of Alberta representative Karen Hansen said during opening statements of Camp's hearing Tuesday morning.

Hansen said the law society is taking a "neutral position" on whether Camp should be reinstated.

It will be up to the hearing's panel to weigh Camp's right to make a living against the rights of sexual assault victims and the public perception of the legal system, she said.

"We would submit this is going to be a difficult decision for the panel," Hansen said.

'I still have a great deal to contribute'

Camp told the panel he believes he is a better person after the incident, having taken steps to educate himself on the history of sexual assault law in Canada and to correct biases he admitted to having previously.

"I learned I wasn't as clever as I thought I was. I learned I didn't know as much as I thought I did… I learned why the question I asked [to the sexual assault complainant] had been so hurtful," he said.

"I learned kindness, I guess. In many ways, I learned kindness."

Camp said he has taken on three counsellors, or mentors, to help guide his legal and personal development.

"I made a mistake," he told the panel. "I did my best to learn from it. I still have a great deal to contribute."

He also said is a "better person" now and would be a better lawyer than he was in the past, as a result of everything that has happened.

Before becoming a judge, Camp worked mainly in commercial litigation — mostly in the oil and gas sector — in Canada.

He practised criminal law in South Africa but not in Canada.

If reinstated as a lawyer, he said he would not pursue a career in criminal law and would prefer to focus on environmental and corporate commercial law.

Witness testimony

Camp's lawyer, Alain Hepner, called five witnesses during the hearing in support of his client's reinstatement as a lawyer.

Justice Richard Bell, a Federal Court judge who was the first witness called, spoke to both Camp's legal competence and character.

Bell, chief Justice of the Court Martial Appeal Court, said he has reviewed Camp's past decisions and has no doubts about his legal abilities.

"From an appellant court point of view, he seemed to be bang on," Bell said.

Bell also said he became "very good friends" with Camp and spoke positively of his personal character.

Camp's public reputation as the "knees together" judge is not representative of the person he knows, Bell said.

"I have seen nothing to indicate Robin Camp holds homophobic, sexist, discriminatory attitudes toward anybody."

'He was extremely well respected'

Camp's former legal administrator also told the panel she had never personally seen him act in a sexist, discriminatory or hostile manner and there was no such chatter among his staff.

Cassandra Sutter, who was a student of Camp's during law school and later an acquaintance of his at his former law firm, told the panel she never witnessed or heard of Camp being sexist or treating women poorly.

Robert Hawkes, who worked at the same law firm with Camp and has known him for a dozen years, described Camp as a lawyer and judge motivated by public service.

"Robin's primary concern was making sure we were dealing with everyone fairly," Hawkes said.

As a former resident of apartheid-era South Africa, Camp was especially concerned "with the disenfranchised being treated fairly," Hawkes added.

"He was extremely well respected," he said of his former colleague. "I literally couldn't think of anyone who didn't hold him in high regard."

What's next

The hearing concluded Tuesday afternoon, after about four hours.

The next step is for Camp's lawyer to submit a written legal argument to the panel, which is due in three weeks' time.

As the law society's lawyer, Hansen will then submit a written legal argument one week after that.

Hansen said her submission will refer heavily to sections of Alberta's Legal Profession Act that deal with "character and reputation" and conduct of members.

The panel's decision will be issued, in writing, at some point after that.

With files from Carolyn Dunn and Jennifer Lee