Judge Robin Camp's rape remarks led to appeal before Peter MacKay promoted him

Complaints from the public about Federal Court Judge Robin Camp are pouring into the Canadian Judicial Council, after his comments at a sexual assault trial last year calling a 19-year-old complainant "the accused" and asking why she didn't just keep her knees together.

Judge asked woman in sex assault case why she didn't just keep her knees together

Judge Robin Camp's insensitive remarks to a sexual assault complainant last year were available to then justice minister Peter MacKay before the decision was made to elevate him to the Federal Court. MacKay has not responded to questions about the vetting process. (Andrew Balfour/Federal Court of Canada)

Complaints from the public about Federal Court Judge Robin Camp are pouring into the Canadian Judicial Council. To date, Canada's judicial watchdog has received correspondence from roughly 30 people or groups incensed by the comments Camp made last year at a sexual assault trial when he was still a provincial court judge in Alberta.

The judicial council's investigation into his remarks is underway, headed by the chair of its judicial conduct committee, Justice Michael MacDonald. He will likely take several months to complete his work.

Alberta's Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley tells CBC News she's "also exploring my options in terms of next steps."

While Ganley cannot comment on the specifics of the case she says she is, "absolutely committed to ending any instances where sexual violence is excused or explained by blaming victims," and that she wants to ensure the provincial judicial appointment process is fair and transparent and "will consider any appropriate changes."

In the meantime, there are no answers about how and why, on June 26, 2015, then justice minister Peter MacKay chose to appoint Camp to the Federal Court.

Camp's main area of practice was commercial litigation before he was appointed to the Alberta criminal court division by the government of Alison Redford in March 2012.

He worked at the same law firm as Redford's ex-husband, Robert Hawkes, who also led her 2011 transition team.

Outside the firm, Camp served on the board of directors of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a group concerned with freedom of speech. It describes itself as being concerned about the erosion of freedom and equality "by governments and by government-funded and government-created entities like Canada's public universities and human rights commissions at the federal and provincial levels."

Camp spent three years on the provincial bench hearing a wide variety of criminal cases. Records at the Alberta Court of Appeal show two of his rulings were appealed and overturned with new trials ordered.

In one case, the Court of Appeal found Camp made an error in law when he granted a stay in proceedings in a case where three people were violently attacked with a hammer.

The other is the notorious sexual assault trial where Camp repeatedly called the 19-year-old complainant "the accused" and asked her why she didn't just keep her knees together or move in such a way that her alleged attacker couldn't penetrate her. He said that "sex and pain sometimes go together, that — that's not necessarily a bad thing."

Gender sensitivity counselling

Last week, after news broke that the judicial council had launched a self-initiated complaint into his comments, Camp issued a statement saying he would undertake a program of gender sensitivity counselling at his own expense.

It's not clear what that would involve. CBC News asked the Federal Court to elaborate: is it a 30-minute online sensitivity course or hours of one-on-one counselling?

The Federal Court will not release any details.

Camp acquitted Alexander Scott Wagar in the sexual assault case in September 9, 2014. When the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial last month, the justices said Camp's comments "gave rise to doubts about the trial judge's understanding of the law governing sexual assaults.… We are also persuaded that sexual stereotypes and stereotypical myths, which have long since been discredited, may have found their way into the trial judge's judgment. There were also instances where the trial judge misapprehended the evidence."

The Crown notified the Court of Appeal of its intention to appeal on Sept. 23, 2014.

It filed its written arguments on March 19, 2015. The submission, in great detail, lays out its position that Camp made legal errors, applied out-of-date stereotypes to the complainant and transcribed all of Camp's eyebrow-raising comments about women, sex and rape.

A single phone call to the Alberta Court of Appeal's registry office would have answered any questions about whether appeals were pending on any of Camp's provincial court decisions. The factum was a public document, reviewable by anyone.

All of those details would have been available to the justice minister more than three months before he elevated Camp to the Federal Court.

MacKay has not responded to CBC's requests for information on what kind of vetting he and his office did before appointing Camp.

'Sincere apology'

The Alberta judicial advisory committee had little, if any, role in this appointment.

Provincial court judges under consideration for a federal judicial appointment are not assessed by the advisory committees, which are set up in every province and territory.

The Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs said that a candidate's file is submitted to the appropriate provincial committee members for comments, but whatever they say is confidential, provided only to the minister and not binding.

As for Camp, last week the Federal Court said he will not hear any cases involving sexual conduct while the judicial council investigates the complaints. The statement also included comments from Camp: "I have come to recognize that things that I said and attitudes I displayed during the trial of this matter, and in my decision, caused deep and significant pain to many people. My sincere apology goes out, in the first place, to the young woman who was the complainant in the matter."