The West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund has been granted intervener status in the inquiry into the conduct of Justice Robin Camp.
Camp presided over a sexual assault trial in Alberta in 2014 and asked the complainant, an indigenous woman who was 19 years old and homeless at the time of the alleged assault, “Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?”
He also referred to the woman repeatedly as “the accused,” and remarked that “sex and pain sometimes go together […] that’s not necessarily a bad thing” and that “young wom[e]n want to have sex, particularly if they are drunk.”
The Canadian Judicial Council is investigating a complaint brought by the Attorney General of Alberta that calls for Justice Camp’s removal from the office of Federal Court judge, a position to which he was later appointed.
It is unusual for interveners to be part of a disciplinary proceeding.
“It was heartening to know the Canadian Judicial Council saw the issue with the wider public interest lens such that they invited interveners — that doesn’t always happen,” says Raji Mangat, director of litigation for West Coast LEAF.
In fact, a coalition is intervening with LEAF and involves organizations with specialization in the law of sexual assault and the protections of the Criminal Code that allow for survivors of sexual assault and complainants in criminal trials to not be susceptible to the myths that somehow their prior sexual conduct or experience reflects on their credibility.
West Coast LEAF is intervening in the inquiry in collaboration with LEAF National, the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, Ending Violence Association of British Columbia, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, and Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children.
The coalition will make arguments about the impact of Justice Camp’s behaviour on survivors and on public attitudes about sexual assault, and about the legal protections for sexual assault complainants that Justice Camp allegedly ignored.
Mangat says the opportunity is “ripe for a public conversation” on the issue after the Jian Ghomeshi trial and events in the United States such as the Stanford rape case.
“At this moment in Canadian history, the public has little faith that the criminal justice system will treat complainants in sexual assault trials fairly. Justice Camp’s conduct adds to this distrust and worsens the chilling effect on survivors,” she says. “What faith can we have in a system where a judge — the person whose responsibility is to oversee the process impartially — suggests that the complainant is to blame for the attack, that she consented because she didn’t fight hard enough, or that she is less credible because of her sexual history?”
Mangat says she hopes the Canadian Judicial Council will really look at the conduct of the judge in the case “with a wider lens” of what does it mean for women and other sexual assault complainants.
“What sort of chilling effect does this have on individuals who survive sexual assault and sexual misconduct and are now getting a message from someone who is supposed to be an independent, impartial arbiter of their case — comments that are very, very troubling?” she says. “I think judges really need to recognize that they have a very high role and responsibility in our criminal justice system.”
Justice Camp’s treatment of the complainant turns the clock back on the law of sexual assault, adds Kasari Govender, executive director of West Coast LEAF. “We are here to protect survivors’ right to fair treatment by the courts and equal protection of the law. We know that the vast majority of sexual assaults are never prosecuted, in large part because women do not report for fear of unfair treatment within the justice system. Women will not be safe unless we address this treatment head on.”
The hearing into Justice Camp’s conduct will take place in Calgary Sept. 6-9.
Updated Aug. 31 to add LEAF National to the list of intervenors.