Manitoba judge rebuked for sex assault remarks

The Canadian Judicial Council says a Manitoba judge's remarks during a sexual assault sentencing this year were insensitive and outdated, but he won't face any penalty.

Justice Robert Dewar officially apologizes for comments

Protesters in Winnipeg carry signs demanding Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar's resignation on Feb. 25. (CBC)

The Canadian Judicial Council says a Manitoba judge's remarks during a sexual assault sentencing this year were insensitive and outdated, but he won't face any penalty.

The council said Wednesday it has finished reviewing complaints made against Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar, who sparked controversy in February for remarks he made while sentencing a man in Thompson, Man.

At the time, Dewar said "sex was in the air" when he spared the man jail time by handing him a two-year conditional sentence and allowing him to remain free in the community.

Dewar also commented on the way the female victim was dressed and her actions the night she was forced to have sex by a man in the woods along a dark highway outside Thompson in 2006.

The Canadian Judicial Council's review found that Dewar's comments were perceived by many to be insensitive to victims of sexual assault.

"They were also seen as reflecting negative and outdated gender stereotypes, as casting blame on the victim and showing an unacceptable gender bias against women," the council stated in a release.

News of Dewar's comments sparked angry protests in Winnipeg this past spring, with demonstrators calling on the judge to resign.

Judge apologizes

Dewar agreed that "his poor choice of words" hurt women who have been victims of sexual assault, according to the council.

The judge issued an "unequivocal apology" to the victim in the Thompson case "for the hurt she must have experienced from my comments."

Dewar, who has apologized for his remarks, has since met with a gender equality expert and is pursuing 'further professional development,' according to the Canadian Judicial Council. ((Department of Justice Canada))

"Some of the letters of complaint, from persons who have worked directly with past victims, have pointed out that some of my comments were also traumatic for them. I very much regret that as well," Dewar stated in the council's release.

During the sentencing hearing, Dewar said the man and a friend had met the woman, who is now in her mid-20s, and her girlfriend earlier that night outside a bar under what the judge called "inviting circumstances."

Dewar pointed out the victim and her friend were dressed in tube tops, no bras, and high heels and noted they were wearing plenty of makeup.

Dewar called the man a "clumsy Don Juan" who may have misunderstood what the victim wanted.

Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Neil Wittmann, who conducted the Canadian Judicial Council's review, has spoken to Dewar about the remarks. No further action will be taken against Dewar, Wittmann has ruled.

Met with gender equality expert

The council said Dewar has met with a gender equality expert "in his desire to approach social justice issues with greater sensitivity in the future."

"He has taken steps to try and better understand and better prepare for any cases where issues of gender equality emerge, that he is better prepared," Norman Sabourin, the council's executive director, told CBC News.

In a statement, Manitoba Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said Dewar will resume his full duties, which will include presiding over cases of a sexual nature.

"Given today's decision and given Justice Dewar's remedial efforts, taken at his own initiative, Justice Dewar will now be called upon to preside in all matters falling within the jurisdiction of the Court of Queen's Bench," Joyal said.

A provincial government spokesperson told CBC News that it is pleased with the outcome of the council's review.

Karen Busby, a University of Manitoba law professor, said she is not surprised Dewar was not punished for his remarks.

"I believe that his apology is a full apology and an honest apology, and we don't have reason to believe that, you know, there's a more serious problem operating here," Busby said.