Inquiry into Judge Robin Camp to hear from advocates for sex assault victims

The Canadian Judicial Council has granted an "exceptional" request allowing feminist organizations and groups that help victims of sexual assault to make submissions at the inquiry into a judge who made controversial remarks during an Alberta sex assault trial.

Hearing panel says findings may have impact on conduct of future sexual assault trials

Intervenors who advocate for the rights of sexual assault victims have been granted the right to appear before a committee reviewing the conduct of Federal Court Judge Robin Camp. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Canadian Judicial Council has granted an "exceptional" request to allow a number of feminist organizations and groups that help victims of sexual assault to make submissions at the upcoming inquiry into the conduct of Judge Robin Camp.

The Federal Court judge is facing the inquiry after making controversial comments at a sexual assault trial he presided over in 2014, when he was an Alberta provincial court judge. 

This is the first time people have applied to act as intervenors at such hearings.

At the 2014 trial of Scott Wagar, who was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman over a sink, Camp repeatedly called the teenaged female complainant "the accused" and asked, "Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?" and, "Why didn't you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn't penetrate you?"  

The Canadian Judicial Council is reviewing the conduct of Judge Camp, who asked a complainant in a 2014 sexual assault trial, 'Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?' (Andrew Balfour/Federal Court of Canada)

The Alberta Court of Appeal overturned Camp's decision to acquit Wagar, writing that the judge's comments gave rise to doubts about his understanding of the law governing sexual assault. 

In ruling on the application for intervenor status, members of the Canadian Judicial Council inquiry committee made it clear they are seeking to do more than decide whether Camp is fit to remain on the bench.

"The allegations against Justice Camp raise important legal and social implications," the committee wrote. 

"But the inquiry committee's ultimate findings concerning the allegations may have a broader impact on the conduct of sexual assault trials and — whatever the outcome — they will contribute to society's discussion about gender equality and how the justice system responds to sexual assault complaints."

That discussion reached a fever pitch earlier this year when former CBC employee Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty of choking and sexual assault. The ruling fuelled protests, marches and the online "I believe survivors" campaign.

Their interest is exceptional in light of the current legal and social context surrounding how the justice system responds to sexual assault complaints. - CJC inquiry committee

Just last week an Alberta Court of Queen's Bench judge, Juliana Topolniski, overturned a decision by a provincial court judge who had acquitted a teenaged boy of sexual assault.

In her ruling, Topolniski tore a strip off of Judge Michael Savaryn for not understanding the law.

'Participation would enhance public confidence'

Even though there is no right to intervene before the Canadian Judicial Council, the inquiry committee decided to grant intervenors permission to make written submissions as long as they don't introduce new evidence or take a position on the merit of the allegations facing Camp.

"In our view, their interest is exceptional in light of the current legal and social context surrounding how the justice system responds to sexual assault complaints. Their participation would enhance public confidence in the inquiry process," wrote Justices Austin Cullen, Deborah Smith and Raymond Whalen and senior lawyers Karen Jensen and Cynthia Petersen.

Camp did not oppose the intervenors' applications to participate in the inquiry. He has apologized publicly for making inappropriate and insensitive comments at the 2014 trial.

Camp also has informed the inquiry that he voluntarily sought out training and counseling with a judge, psychologist and expert on the law of sexual assault.

Among the intervenors are the Schlifer clinic, which provides legal advice and counselling to victims of sexual assault, the Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre and a coalition that includes the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre and the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.

In their submissions, the groups explained how they wanted to provide context and perspective about the effect of Camp's comments on people who have been sexually assaulted as well as the general public.

The hearing into Camp's conduct is scheduled for September in Calgary.