Justice Robin Camp should be removed from bench, inquiry committee says

In a unanimous decision, the inquiry committee tasked with reviewing the conduct of Justice Robin Camp has recommended to the Canadian Judicial Council he be removed from the bench.

 “They basically said, look there’s something larger at play that cannot be excused by gaps in knowledge or lack of education,” says Alison Gray, partner at Bennett Jones LLP in Calgary.

“This was something far more profound — this was a complete disregard and disrespect for the principles of equality, as well as the sexual assault law that was specifically put in place to get rid of discrimination and inequality. It goes to the core of judging. It’s not this individual per se — it goes to what it means to be a judge and he basically failed at that. It’s a really strong indictment on Justice Camp.”

Gray says it’s a well-reasoned decision that gets to the core of what the matter really was.

The report outlines the committee’s review of Camp’s misconduct in R. v. Wagar, a 2014 sexual assault case in which Camp acquitted the accused but not before making questionable comments to the 19-year-old complainant, including asking her why she couldn’t keep her knees together and stating “pain and sex sometimes go together.”

The committee concluded “that Justice Camp’s conduct in the Wagar Trial was so manifestly and profoundly destructive of the concept of the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judicial role that public confidence is sufficiently undermined to render the Judge incapable of executing the judicial office. Accordingly, the Inquiry Committee expresses the unanimous view that a recommendation by Council for Justice Camp’s removal is warranted.”

Gray says she’s pleased the committee was able to “hone in on what is really at issue, which is the public confidence in the judiciary system and that his behaviour was of such a profound nature that no matter whether or not he is sincerely apologetic for what he said or that he did seek out additional education, it just can’t undo what is already a mistrust in the judiciary for sexual assault victims.”

The report notes that throughout the original trial, “Justice Camp made comments or asked questions evidencing an antipathy towards laws designed to protect vulnerable witnesses, promote equality, and bring integrity to sexual assault trials. We also find that the Judge relied on discredited myths and stereotypes about women and victim-blaming during the Trial and in his Reasons for Judgment.”

Because of these findings, the committee said Camp committed misconduct and placed himself “in a position incompatible with the due execution of the office of judge within the meaning of ss. 65(2)(b) and (d) of the Judges Act.”

Kim Stanton, legal director of LEAF, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, which was an intervener in the inquiry, says the decision sends a message “to other judges, to legal actors and to survivors that such conduct is unacceptable.”

“It’s impressive in the depth in which it goes to address the concerns about public confidence in the judiciary and it was unexpected to see such a strongly worded decision,” she adds. “It’s a very strong statement.”

The report goes on to say that “although Justice Camp made significant efforts after complaints were made to the Council to reform the thinking and the attitudes which influenced his misguided approach to the Trial, in the particular circumstances of this inquiry, education — including social context education — cannot adequately repair the damage caused to public confidence through his conduct of the Wagar Trial.”

The fact the report said his apology was sincere but went on to say an apology and education is simply not enough is a very important aspect, Stanton says.

“Essentially, they’re saying we’re not being unforgiving here — we acknowledge the sincerity of the apology, but the problem is the damage was already done and the apology can’t repair that.”

The Canadian Judicial Council will now consider the committee’s report and recommendation as well as offer Camp the opportunity to make written submissions for them to consider as well. The next step will be the council’s recommendation to the Minister of Justice of Canada.

However, Gray says she can’t think of a similar incident where a recommendation that a judge be removed got to that level — most resign first.

“Looking at the decision, it’s hard to conceive of an argument he could make — especially given the fact the inquiry committee itself pointed out the inconsistencies in his own submissions before them,” she says.

Stanton agrees.

“If I were a judge receiving a decision so strongly worded like this, I would be evaluating very carefully how I would respond to it,” she says. “The panel referred to a profound failure to act with impartiality and to respect equality before the law.”

Camp’s 2014 decision was appealed in 2015, where a new trial was ordered on the basis of Camp’s conduct despite the fact Wagar did not show up.

In the appeal court’s decision, Justice Brian O’Ferrall wrote: “we are cognizant that the Crown is limited to appeals on questions of law alone. However, we are of the view that the conduct of the trial and the trial judge’s reasons disclose errors of law and therefore we allow the appeal and order a new trial.”

Following the appeal court’s ruling, complaints about Camp’s behaviour from members of the public, law professors and law students rolled into the Canadian Judicial Council. Before the council could decide whether the complaints should be referred to an inquiry, the Attorney General of Alberta made a complaint under the Judges Act and triggered an automatic inquiry.

The inquiry hearing took place Sept. 6-12.

Wagar’s new trial began on Nov. 7.

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