Brown says through lawyers that allegations against him are 'demonstrably false'
Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown is vigorously denying, through his lawyers, allegations made about his behaviour while at a high-end Arizona resort in late January – alleged behaviour that led to him being put on paid leave of absence and the subject of a Canadian Judicial Council review.
The response comes after the Vancouver Sun reported that a Jan. 29 complaint to the CJC by Philadelphia resident Jon Crump alleges Justice Brown pestered him and his friends at a Scottsdale resort on Jan. 28.
“My original intention in this matter was not to comment while the Canadian Judicial Council’s process runs its course,” Brown said in a statement released by his lawyers, Brian Gover and Alexandra Heine of Stockwoods LLP. “In light of the false statements in the media by Mr. Jonathan Crump, I am compelled to respond.”
In the Sun story, Crump, a 31-year-old US Marine Corps veteran and now a mortgage adviser, gave his version of events of an altercation involving Justice Brown at the five-star Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia.
Both were in the resort bar on Jan. 28. Justice Brown had earlier given a speech at a gala that honoured Louise Arbour, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and a former UN high commissioner for human rights.
Arbour was receiving the 2023 Sandra Day O’Connor Justice Prize from Arizona State University. O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the top court in the US, and the award in her name was created in 2014 to recognize a life devoted to the rule of law, judicial independence, and human rights.
Justice Brown had been sitting at a table of Crump’s friends, and Crump alleges in the Sun article that Justice Brown followed Crump’s party out of the bar, leading to an altercation that both say led to physical contact and later police involvement.
However, Justice Brown gives a different version of the events of Jan. 28 to that given by Crump in the Sun story, though both say that Justice Brown joined Crump’s table of friends while Crump was not there.
“In the course of the evening, a group at a nearby table invited me to join them,” Justice Brown’s statement says. “While we were talking, Mr. Crump, who had evidently accompanied this group to the lounge, returned to their table. I did not speak or otherwise engage with him.”
Justice Brown’s statement goes on to say: “We all left the lounge at roughly the same time. Outside the lounge, Mr. Crump objected to me rejoining the group and suddenly, without warning or provocation, punched me several times in the head. Taken by surprise, I was unable to defend myself.”
Justice Brown adds that Crump statements to the press are “demonstrably false,” adding that “approximately one hour after the assault, he [Crump] called police and, in an apparent attempt to avoid facing the consequences of assaulting me, [Crump] falsely described me as the instigator. The evidence I provided to the Council corroborates my account of the incident.”
Justice Brown also acknowledged that the incident has caused him “embarrassment and created complications for the court,” and hopes that the CJC “will resolve this matter expeditiously.”
The statement also says Justice Brown does not anticipate making further statements “and will not be giving any media interviews.”
A report of the incident that was obtained by Postmedia, publisher of the Vancouver Sun, indicates that a police officer arrived at the resort about 1:30 am on Jan. 29. The officer spoke to Crump and another person at the table, Paige Bowmaster, but not Justice Brown.
The officer wrote in his report that hotel security said they spoke with a man after the altercation who was identified by front-desk records as Russell Brown. The Sun article says the police report indicates Justice Brown showed no signs of injury, did not require first aid, and went to his room, according to the resort staff. No charges were laid.
The CJC said in a news release earlier this week that the complaint against Justice Brown was received on Jan. 29, and was referred to the Honourable Christopher Hinkson, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and Chairperson of the CJC’s Judicial Conduct Committee.
On Jan. 31, Chief Justice Hinkson asked Justice Brown to comment on the allegations in the complaint. Justice Brown provided his comments on Feb. 20.
The council statement noted that, as with any complaint against a judge, “this matter is being reviewed in accordance with the Council’s review procedures.” Under the Judges Act, the CJC has the authority to investigate complaints made against federally appointed judges.
The council acknowledged in a statement on Tuesday that “in light of questions being raised regarding the absence of a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court in the country that is comprised of only nine judges.” Chief Justice Hinkson, as chairperson of the CJC’s conduct committee “decided that it was in the public interest to announce the review of this matter.”
A spokesperson for the Supreme Court has said Justice Brown has been on leave since Feb. 1. His absence from the bench was first noticed when Law360 Canada, an online legal news service, asked the SCC why Brown was not included in an 8-0 judgment on the appeal of a man convicted of sexual assault.
Justice Brown's absence was mentioned in a single line in that judgment: "Brown J. did not participate in the final disposition of the judgment."
The SCC said in its own statement earlier this week that on Jan. 31, the CJC notified Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of the SCC, of the complaint. “The following day, after speaking with Justice Brown, Chief Justice Wagner put him on leave from his duties at the Supreme Court of Canada, with immediate effect, awaiting a determination of the complaint by the Council.”
The statement went on to say Chief Justice Wagner notified the Minister of Justice for Canada, David Lametti, of the decision, as required by the Judges Act.
“A review of the complaint by the Council is ongoing, in accordance with the Judges Act and the relevant procedures.” The SCC statement said any inquiries about the complaint should be directed to the CJC.
The CJC was created in 1971 to carry out investigations into improper conduct of the judiciary and maintain the standards of the profession.
Justice Brown was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada on Aug. 25, 2015. Before joining the highest court in the land, Justice Brown was the chair of the Health Law Institute and the University Appeals Board and chair of the Professional Review Board at the University of Alberta.