Judge Robin Camp's 'insensitive, rude' comments not grounds for dismissal: lawyer

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp may have been "insensitive, rude" and at times "displayed an ignorance" to the behaviours of sexual assault victims, but his conduct does not warrant his removal from the bench, lawyer Frank Addario says.

Inquiry will determine if Camp has been remediated or should be removed from office

A five-member inquiry panel will determine whether Federal Court Justice Robin Camp will stay on the bench or be removed over comments he made during a sexual assault trial. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

For the latest developments, see Justice Robin Camp defended at inquiry: 'He's not a misogynist, he's not a racist'

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp may have been "insensitive, rude" and at times "displayed an ignorance" about the behaviour of sexual assault victims, but his conduct does not warrant his removal from the bench, lawyer Frank Addario argued in his opening statement at an inquiry in Calgary Tuesday.

Camp is in trouble over comments he made while presiding over a sexual assault trial in 2014 as an Alberta provincial court judge.

The alleged rape victim from that case was the first to testify at the inquiry. 

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

Throughout the 2014 trial, Camp repeatedly asked the complainant why she hadn't fought harder to prevent the attack and several times referred to her as "the accused."

"He made me feel like I should have done something, like I was some kind of slut." she said. 

Acceptable judicial conduct?

The Canadian Judicial Council has formed a five-member inquiry panel that will determine Camp's fate after hearing evidence over the next several days in a conference room at the Westin Hotel in downtown Calgary.

Its purpose is to determine whether Camp's conduct in the trial fell so far outside the bounds of acceptable judicial conduct or is so impossible to remediate that the judge must be removed from his current office.

Panel members take their seats at Canadian Judicial Council inquiry being held for Justice Robin Camp in Calgary Tuesday. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Camp's lawyer will say the answer is no.

"[Camp] took steps to interrogate his beliefs," said Addario. "He is reformed in his thinking and sorry for his failings."

"He is not the caricature he has been made out to be."

The panel consists of three Superior Court judges and two senior lawyers and will hear from lawyers for the inquiry, Camp's lawyer, Camp himself and several intervener groups consisting of women's rights organizations and sexual assault crisis centres before deliberating on the judge's fate.

The inquiry must weigh the nature and gravity of the misconduct that Camp has already admitted to.

This matter, though, isn't simply about Camp's comments, but is about the public perception of the justice system, the presenting counsel reminded the panel.

'No experience in sexual assault law'

"Justice Camp agrees that his comments in [the trial] were insensitive, rude, and, in places, displayed an ignorance of the ways in which victims of trauma and/or sexual violence process and respond to events," Addario wrote in his opening statement.

"He was a civil lawyer with no experience in Canadian sexual assault law prior to his appointment."

The room where the inquiry is being held at the Westin Hotel in downtown Calgary. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Addario says Camp better understands the law and science of sexual assault after being counselled by a clinical psychologist who specializes in abuse and trauma and a professor who specializes in the law of sexual assault and feminist legal theory.

Alberta Attorney General Kathleen Ganley forced the inquiry in January after a complaint made by two law professors at the University of Calgary and Dalhousie University. 

During the 2014 trial, Camp asked the complainant "why couldn't you just keep your knees together" during her testimony.

Ruling overturned after acquittal

The complainant, a 19-year-old woman, told the court she was raped by Alexander Scott Wagar over a bathroom sink at a Calgary house party. Throughout the trial, Camp repeatedly referred to her as "the accused."

"Why didn't you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn't penetrate you?" Camp asked the woman.

Camp acquitted Wagar, but the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the ruling and ordered a new trial. By that time, Camp had been elevated to the Federal Court.

In ordering a new trial, the Court of Appeal wrote that the judge's comments raised doubts about his understanding of sexual assault laws.

Since the Canadian Judicial Council was created in 1971, only two judges have been recommended for removal. Both ultimately resigned before Parliament, which has the final say, made its decision on their removal.

Seven days have been set aside for the hearing, but it is not expected to run its allotted time.

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