Justice minister denounces judge's comments on teen sexual assault victim's weight

Jean-Paul Braun said the 17-year-old was "a bit overweight, but she has a pretty face" and suggested she enjoyed the attention she got from the taxi driver who assaulted her.

Jean-Paul Braun said the 17-year-old was 'a bit overweight, but she has a pretty face'

Quebec Court Judge Jean-Paul Braun made comments about a young sexual assault victim that the province's justice minister says are unacceptable. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec's justice minister says comments made by a Quebec court judge about a teenage victim assaulted by her taxi driver are unacceptable, after it came to light that the judge had commented on the girl's weight and suggested she enjoyed getting attention from a handsome older man.

In May, Judge Jean-Paul Braun found taxi driver Carlo Figaro guilty of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old passenger in 2015.

During the trial, Braun commented on the victim's appearance, saying she was "a bit overweight, but she has a pretty face."

When asked about Braun's comments Wednesday morning, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée told reporters they were "unacceptable" and that she would be filing a complaint with Quebec's magistrates council.

A spokesperson for that body, which hears complaints against judges, said for now it will not be commenting on Braun's remarks.

A spokesperson for the Quebec court also declined to comment, referring questions back to the magistrates council.

According to the victim's version of events, outlined in the judgment, on the night of the assault, Figaro stopped the car not far from her house and licked her face. She pushed him away and tried to get out, but in the meantime he touched her breasts and genitals over her clothing and unbuttoned her shirt.

Figaro denied that any sexual contact occurred, but said the victim rubbed the back of his head while she was in the car.

Figaro, now 49, has yet to be sentenced.

His next court date is in November. The defence has appealed his conviction. 

'Not the same consent'

Audio recordings of the court proceedings show that Braun also went back and forth with Crown prosecutor Amélie Rivard, suggesting there are degrees of consent and questioning exactly which actions required Figaro to get the victim's consent.

The judge said it is not the same to consent to kiss someone and to "mettre … la main au panier," a French expression that usually refers to touching someone's rear end.

Rivard replied that she hadn't come across that distinction in the jurisprudence.

Braun also highlighted the girl's strict religious upbringing and suggested she enjoyed getting the attention from a man who "looks good" and that she had even flirted with him.

Rivard said the girl was simply being polite and that even if she were flirting, it didn't mean that constituted consent.

Braun also commented in his written decision on the appearance of the 49-year-old taxi driver. 

"He looks good and doesn't seem his age," the judge stated.

"We can see from his testimony … that he has nice manners and that he likes to wear cologne: with Versace when he goes out, and with other less-expensive colognes during the week."

Figaro denied ever noticing the 17-year-old in the past, even though he stopped at the coffee shop where she worked regularly.

The judge, in his ruling, stated that he finds that hard to believe, "taking into consideration the [victim's] figure, which is quite voluptuous; the court specifies that she is a pretty young girl."

Despite his line of questioning regarding the girl's role in the assault, Braun found Figaro guilty.

In his decision, Braun said that while the victim perhaps didn't make it clear that she didn't want to be kissed, through her body language and words, she did make it clear that she didn't consent to what happened after that.

'Completely unacceptable'

CALACS West Island, a support group for survivors of sexual assault, said the comments were disturbing.

"He gave messages that were reprehensible … giving her the message that even though she was sexually assaulted, maybe in some way, she was flattered by these comments," Caroline Deslauriers, a counsellor with CALACS, told CBC News.

"These comments are completely unacceptable. They're unacceptable from anybody, but especially coming from a judge."