Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tory-appointed judge should be struck off

The Federal Court of Canada has ruled that an Alberta judge overstepped the bounds of reasonableness during his handling of a rape case back in 2014. He is accused of being "dismissive of, if not contemptuous towards, the substantive law of sexual assault and of evidence ... combined with a refusal to apply them".
Justice Robin Camp was, at the time, a judge in the Alberta Provincial Court. He has since been elevated to a position on the Federal Court by then Justice Minister Peter Mackay, a final gift to the country from the Conservative government just before losing October's federal election. Go figure!
The case in question involved the washroom rape of a homeless 19-year old woman. During the case, Justice Camp peppered the victim with questions like "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?" He also openly mocked the very idea of consent, asking "Are there any particular words you must use, like the marriage ceremony?", and "Do children learn this at school? Do they pass tests like driver's licenses? ... It's not the way of the birds and the bees."
A few other pearls of wisdom from Justice Camp during the same trial: "The accused [sic] hasn't explained why she allowed the sex to happen if she didn't want it"; " Sex and pain sometimes go together - that's not necessarily a bad thing"; "Sex is very often a challenge"; etc. He also insisted on including evidence of the victim's previous sexual activities, contrary to the express legal injunction against doing so.
Justice Camp ultimately acquitted the 240-lb accused rapist in the case, although a court of appeal later overturned the ruling, noting that the judge did not seem to fully understand the concept of consent in Canadian case law.
Clearly worried about his job since the complaints came to light (and just why did this take so long?), Justice Camp has promised to take voluntary gender sensitivity training, and has issued a public apology both to the woman involved in the case and to other women who may be dissuaded from reporting sexual abuse due to attitudes like his. So, he is at least receiving competent advice now, although just how heartfelt his apologies are is anyone's guess.
The Federal Court has already taken the unusual step of ruling that he cannot preside over cases involving sexual conduct pending the outcome of a judicial review of his earlier conduct. And it may yet go further and remove him completely from the court. The last time that happened was 2009, and it has only occurred twice since 1971. The final decision actually rests with Parliament, but typically judges choose to resign before a case reaches that stage.
Justice Camp's behaviour and comments are clearly unacceptable from a senior Canadian judge in this day and age, and I would happily see him struck off. It seems to me unlikely that this was a one-off "mistake" or aberration, and I am guessing that the Canadian Judicial Council review will uncover other equally dubious behaviour that, taken all in all, might well lead to his dismissal.
It also raises for me questions about the Canadian practice of political appointees to top judicial positions. I have never understood why this is allowed to happen, and why top judges are not appointed on merit or at least according to some more democratic process.

As of November 25th 2015, Justice Camp has been removed from all cases indefinitely. "Indefinitely" seems to mean at least until he has completed "a comprehensive program of gender sensitivity counselling", although there is still a continuing campaign within the legal fraternity to have him removed completely.

Nearly a year and a half later, counselling and education sessions notwithstanding, Justice Camp resigned his position, in the face of a 19-to-4 vote by the Canadian Judicial Council to have him removed.
Justice is, so to speak, served.

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