OTTAWA — A judge who asked a sexual assault complainant in a trial why she couldn’t keep her knees together quit Thursday after a scathing rebuke from the body that oversees the Canadian judiciary.
In a statement distributed by his lawyer, Justice Robin Camp said he would step down as a member of the Federal Court effective Friday.
“I would like to express my sincere apology to everyone who was hurt by my comments,” Camp said in the statement. “I thank everyone who was generous and kind to me and my family in the last 15 months, particularly my legal team.”
The move came after the Canadian Judicial Council recommended that Camp be removed from the bench, because his conduct was “manifestly and profoundly destructive” to the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.
The council’s decision supported a recommendation in November by a disciplinary panel that was reviewing the original sexual assault trial of Alexander Wagar.
Court transcripts from the 2014 trial in Calgary show that Camp, who was a provincial court judge at the time, called the complainant “the accused” numerous times and told her “pain and sex sometimes go together.”
He questioned the complainant’s morals and suggested her attempts to fight off the man were feeble.
Camp found Wagar not guilty, but the Appeal Court ordered a new trial. Last month, Wager was acquitted again.
The council said that Canadians expect their judges to know the law, have empathy and to recognize and question any past personal attitudes that might prevent them from acting fairly.
“Judges are expected to demonstrate knowledge of social issues, and awareness of changes in social values, humility, tolerance and respect for others,” the council said in its report.
“Those are the very qualities that sustain public confidence in the judiciary. Council decided that the judge’s conduct … was so manifestly and profoundly destructive of the concept of impartiality, integrity and independence of the judicial role that the judge was rendered incapable of executing the judicial office.”
Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the government planned to have Camp removed had he not quit.
“It is and was the government’s intention to move on the recommendation … to ensure the integrity and public confidence in the justice system,” she said.
Kim Stanton of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund welcomed Camp’s resignation.
“It is simply appropriate that Justice Camp should resign,” she said in an email.
Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley made the formal complaint against Camp that triggered the hearing.
“Obviously I felt strongly about it,” she said in Edmonton. “It is really important to send a message to victims that we do want them to come forward and that they should be safe and respected in the justice system, so I am glad to see that he has taken this step.”
The complainant, who was 19 at the time of the first trial, told the disciplinary hearing that Camp’s comments had made her hate herself. She said she had contemplated suicide as a result of her experience.
“He made me feel like I should have done something … that I was some kind of slut,” she said.
A justice who worked with Camp after his remarks also appeared before the panel and testified that she found him to be “teachable.”
Deborah McCawley said she was appalled by what Camp had said, but found him to be fair-minded, and neither a racist nor a misogynist.
McCawley said Camp received counselling, did a lot of reading and research and attended a conference which included a course on how to conduct a sex assault trial.
Camp’s lawyer, Frank Addario, had argued that his client should be allowed to keep his current job.
“Removal is not necessary to preserve public confidence in this case. Justice Camp’s misconduct was the product of ignorance, not animus. He has worked hard to correct his knowledge deficit,” Addario wrote in a rebuttal submission to the judicial council.
The council, however, said Camp’s efforts could not make up for his earlier behaviour.
“Having regard to the totality of the judge’s conduct and all of its consequences, his apologies and efforts at remediation do not adequately repair the damage caused to public confidence.”
Four of the council’s 23 members did not support the decision. The report said they agreed that Camp’s comments amounted to judicial misconduct, but were in favour of recommending a sanction short of removal.
Camp, who was born in South Africa, originally had a legal-aid practice which included some criminal law. As he became more senior, he took on mostly litigation cases. An agreed statement of facts said he was involved in the anti-apartheid movement and represented members of the African National Congress.
After moving to Calgary in 1998, his practice focused mainly on contractual, bankruptcy and trust law, as well as on oil and gas litigation.
He was named an Alberta provincial court judge in 2012, but did not receive training or judicial education on sexual assault law or how to conduct sex assault trials.
On Wednesday, the House of Commons unanimously agreed to fast-track a bill introduced by interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose that would require would-be judges to take courses in sexual assault law.
Camp’s case came up last week in another sex assault trial in Halifax in which the judge acquitted a taxi driver charged with sexually assaulting an intoxicated young woman in his cab.
Judge Gregory Lenehan ruled that the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the woman did not consent to sexual activity and said: “A drunk can consent.”
There have been calls for the judicial council to review Lenehan’s remarks.