The Canadian Judicial Council has been forced by the Alberta Attorney General Kathleen Ganley to launch an inquiry into Federal Court Justice Robin Camp’s conduct during a 2014 sexual assault trial.
It will be the first inquiry committee to be constituted under the CJC’s new bylaws that became effective in July 2015. In a statement released by the judicial council Jan. 7, it confirmed the province’s attorney general had made the request for a formal inquiry and a committee will be appointed in the near future to determine if a recommendation to remove Camp from the bench.
“I think her decision is a positive development because it will make the process more efficient,” says Elaine Craig, an assistant law professor at Dalhousie University and one of four law professors who filed the initial complaint to the CJC after reading Camp’s ruling in R. v. Wagar.
She says she was pleased to hear Ganley’s decision to step up the inquiry because of the potential harm to public perception of the judicial system.
“I think it’s warranted under the circumstances,” says Craig.
“The reality is sexual assault complainants continue to report a fear of the criminal justice process. Cases like R. v. Wagar, and the now well-known statements made by Camp in that proceeding, most certainly do not help to alleviate this problem.”
Craig and her peers filed a complaint with the Judicial Council against Camp for his comments during the 2014 Provincial Court of Alberta trial in which a 19-year-old woman accused a Calgary man of sexually assaulting her during a house party. Their complaint states Camp was contemptuous of sexual assault laws and rules of evidence, going as far as to ask the complainant “why couldn’t you just keep your knees together” and why she didn’t explain to the court better “why she allowed the sex to happen if she didn’t want it?”
Camp acquitted the accused following the trial, but that decision was overturned on appeal.
The appeal court ruled Camp’s comments gave rise to doubts about his understanding of the law governing sexual assault, the meaning of consent, and restrictions on evidence of a complainant’s sexual activity.
By the time the appeal ruling had been released last fall and the issues came to public light, Camp had been promoted to the Federal Court. He has since been barred from hearing any matters until the inquiry is complete and was ordered to take sensitivity training.
“As we wrote in the complaint, our review of the transcript in R. v. Wagar led us to the conclusion that this was conduct that would warrant removal,” says Craig. “It will be up to the inquiry panel to decide, based on all of the information, whether they agree.”
Camp issued an apology in November, following the announcement by the Federal Court he was to undergo the training, stating.
“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,” he said.
The CJC says federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has been invited to designate one or more lawyers to the committee that will otherwise be comprised of judges who are members of the council. The council says the committee’s composition will be made public once it is in place. The hearings will be public.