Federal Court Justice Robin Camp should be removed from bench, judicial committee recommends

Robin Camp, the judge who asked a woman during an Alberta rape trial why she couldn't just keep her knees together, should be removed from the bench, according to a unanimous recommendation from the Canadian Judicial Council's committee of inquiry.

Judge asked complainant why she couldn't just keep her knees together to avoid rape

'He made me hate myself': alleged victim in rape trial speaks at judicial inquiry

7 years ago
Duration 0:35
Featured VideoFederal Court Justice Robin Camp — who asked a woman during a rape trial why she couldn't just keep her knees together — should be removed from the bench, according to a unanimous recommendation from the Canadian Judicial Council's committee of inquiry.

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp — who asked a woman during a rape trial why she couldn't just keep her knees together — should be removed from the bench, according to a unanimous recommendation from the Canadian Judicial Council's committee of inquiry.

Camp was a provincial court judge at the time of the sexual assault trial in Alberta in 2014, in which he acquitted the accused, and was later promoted to the Federal Court. His comments during the trial and subsequent complaints made with the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) led to the inquiry. 

The council's committee of inquiry found that "Justice Camp committed misconduct while presiding over the trial," the CJC said in a release issued Wednesday morning.

The council will consider the committee's report, after giving Camp an opportunity to make written submissions, and then decide on a formal recommendation to make to the federal justice minister.

Only two judges have been recommended for removal by the Canadian Judicial Council since the review body was created in 1971.

In both those cases, the judges resigned before the recommendations made it to Parliament, which ultimately decides whether or not to dismiss a Canadian judge.

"Justice Camp is grateful to the inquiry committee for its thorough consideration of the evidence and his submissions," Camp's lawyer, Frank Addario, said in a written statement in response to the recommendation. "He will not be making any further comment today."

'He made me hate myself'

The Alberta Court of Appeal later overturned Camp's acquittal in the sex assault trial and ordered a new trial for the accused. Closing arguments in that trial concluded in Calgary on Monday and a decision is expected Jan. 31.

The inquiry into Camp's handling of the original trial heard a week of evidence in September, including testimony from the complainant.

"He made me hate myself," said the woman, whose identity is protected by a publication ban.

The complainant in the sexual assault case, seen here outside the Calgary Courts Centre, cannot be identified due to a publication ban. She was the first person to testify at the Canadian Judicial Council inquiry into judge Robin Camp's handling of the initial trial. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

The inquiry heard how Camp asked her several questions during that trial that he later apologized for, including: "Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?"

He also implied during the trial that the complainant — who was allegedly 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."


'Antipathy towards laws'

The committee of inquiry concluded 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."

"We also find that the judge relied on discredited myths and stereotypes about women and victim blaming during the trial and in his reasons for judgment," the committee wrote in a 116-page report.

The report goes on to say that Camp "committed misconduct and placed himself, by his conduct, in a position incompatible with the due execution of the office of judge."

Camp 'very sorry' for 'hurtful' comments

During his testimony at the inquiry, Camp apologized for the "hurtful" comments he made to the complainant.

"My concept of what I did wrong has grown," he testified.

"I'm very sorry that, on reflection and rereading what I said, that I intimidated her, using facetious words."

A law professor testified during the inquiry that Camp, who was educated in South Africa, didn't know the history of sexual assault law in Canada and at times made "rude and stupid" comments during the trial, but said she believed he had learned from the experience.

Panel members take their seats at Canadian Judicial Council inquiry into Justice Robin Camp in Calgary on Sept. 6, 2016. (Colin Hall/CBC)

In a letter presented to the inquiry, Camp's daughter, Lauren Camp, defended her father, writing that he is "old-fashioned in some ways" and that "there are gaps in his understanding of how women think and experience life," but adding "he is not an inherent or dedicated sexist."

"I have seen him advance in understanding and empathy for victims, vulnerable litigants and those who have experienced trauma," she wrote, saying these lessons would make him a better judge. 

She said he is not the "insensitive, sexist brute caricatured in the media."

Conduct 'profoundly destructive'

The five-member inquiry committee — composed of three Superior Court judges and two senior lawyers — was unconvinced, however, concluding Camp's apologies and efforts to improve his understanding of sexual assault law after the fact were not enough to justify keeping him on the bench.

"We conclude that Justice Camp's conduct in the … 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," the committee concluded.

'System curves toward justice'

University of Calgary law professor Alice Woolley, who was among the first to complain about Camp's handling of the sex assault trial, said the panel's unanimous recommendation to remove him is reassuring that the justice system is serious about correcting errors when they do occur.

"We're not always going to get it right. There will sometimes be terrible mistakes that happen," she said.

"But our justice system curves toward justice in the end, and I think that's what this shows."

University of Calgary law professor Alice Woolley was among the first to formally file a complaint about judge Robin Camp's handling of an Alberta sexual assault trial in 2014. (CBC)

Kim Stanton, legal director with the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, which had intervener status at the inquiry, said she was encouraged by the decision from the committee.

"It sends a very strong message to other judges and legal actors but also to survivors, that this kind of conduct is completely unacceptable in a Canadian court," she said.

"It's a really important message that's being sent and there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that other judges will be taking acute notice of this decision."

Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, who initially asked the Canadian Judicial Council to convene the inquiry, called Wednesday's recommendation "an important step forward to reinforce the way our courts should approach sexual assault cases."

"Asking for an inquiry was not a decision I took lightly. On reviewing the transcripts, I thought it was important that victims know this was not an acceptable way for any victim to be treated by the justice system," she said in a statement.

"The decision for a victim of sexual assault to come forward can be very challenging and it is crucial that they know they will be treated with respect and dignity and not subjected to sexual myths and stereotypes."

Next steps

Canadian Judicial Council executive director Norman Sabourin said Camp has 30 days to submit a written submission to the council in response to the committee's recommendation.

The next step is for the council — comprised of roughly two dozen chief justices from across the country — to review the matter and make a recommendation to the minister of justice.

"I think the committee has been crystal clear that outdated stereotypes are totally unacceptable for members of the judiciary to hold," Sabourin said.

With files from Carolyn Dunn