The Current

Justice Robin Camp: What's at stake for sexual assault cases

Justice Robin Camp made headlines when he asked a 19-year-old complainant in a sexual assault case why she couldn't "just keep her knees together." Now, the judge is facing a judicial review and shining a spotlight on how, or if judges are disciplined.
Federal Court Justice Robin Camp is facing a review of his fitness to remain on the bench after controversial comments were made in a 2014 case he presided over. (Andrew Balfour/Federal Court)

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Federal Court judge Robin Camp faces an inquiry looking into controversial comments directed at a sexual assault complainant in 2014.

Among the comments that prompted complaints about the judge's conduct and if he is fit to remain on bench was this question addressed to the complainant: "Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?"

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The Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) is among those given intervenor status at the CJC hearing for Camp. LEAF's legal director, Kim Stanton tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti the role is limited to written submissions but says "it's very significant that this committee actually put out a notice to potential intervenors."

"I don't believe that there has ever been interventions like this before in a Canadian Judicial Committee (CJC) hearing."

Stanton says this move shows that CJC  is aware that this situation calls for public attention, and calls for them to have a process that's transparent and accountable to the public.

"If a judge shows disdain for the hard-fought protections in place for sexual assault complainants — that's a much more fundamental problem."

"When a judge perpetuates rape myths and sexual stereotypes, and fails to respect and promote the principle of equality, it not only compounds the original trauma of sexual assault complainants, it also provides the basis for fears that the criminal justice system won't treat with dignity the women who are considering making a complaint, and it dissuades them from coming for it," says Stanton.

While Justice Camp has apologized for his conduct and taken sensitivity training, Stanton is concerned about the public confidence in the the judiciary.

Law professor Trevor Farrow agrees with Stanton's concern and tells Tremonti, "without that kind of confidence, the rule of law and processes within democracy, struggle."

Farrow says it's about " judicial independence and the balance of the importance of that principle."

"The important thing in this case, and these kinds of cases, is to try and maintain that notion of strong judicial independence without protecting it too much."

Farrow believes the significance of the Camp case is ultimately about "society's ability to deal with ongoing issues of sexual violence and sexual inequality in a way that will make some fundamental changes."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Shannon Higgins, Sujata Berry and Marc Apollonio.