A male judge’s comment to a woman in a sexual assault case could get him kicked off the bench

Andrew Balfour/Federal Court of Canada

A judge who asked a woman why she didn’t just “keep your knees together” while presiding over a sexual assault trial should be removed from the bench, according to a unanimous ruling from an inquiry committee formed by the Canadian Judicial Council.

Justice Robin Camp of the Federal Court of Appeal “made comments or asked questions evidencing an antipathy towards laws designed to protect vulnerable witnesses, promote equality, and bring integrity to sexual assault trials,” said the committee’s report, released Wednesday’s morning.

The committee also found Camp “relied on discredited myths and stereotypes about women and victim-blaming during the trial and in his Reasons for Judgement.”

The decision doesn’t mean that Camp will be removed yet, however. The committee’s report will be taken into consideration by the larger judicial council, who will recommend a course of action to the federal government.

While presiding over the trial of Alexander Wager two years ago in Alberta, Camp, then a provincial judge, asked the complainant, who said she was assaulted in a bathroom, why she “didn’t… just sink [her] bottom into the basin so he couldn’t penetrate [her],” “why couldn’t [she] just keep [her] knees together” and suggested that she could’ve avoided him if she “skew[ed] her pelvis slightly.”

During a public hearing conducted by the council in October, Camp said his comment suggesting that the complainant keep her knees together was “unforgivable.”

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In a letter to the inquiry, his daughter Lauren Camp, wrote that while he is “old-fashioned in some ways” and “there are gaps in his understanding of how women think and experience life,” he is not an “inherent or dedicated sexist.

“I have seen him advance in understanding and empathy for victims, vulnerable litigants and those who have experienced trauma,” she wrote, adding that her father isn’t the “insensitive, sexist brute caricatured in the media.”

But the committee, while acknowledging his “significant efforts to reform his thinking and the attitudes,” said his education “cannot adequately repair the damage caused to public confidence through his conduct of the Wagar Trial.”

That damage warranted his removal, the committee decided.

“We conclude 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,” the ruling said.

The full council, made up of chief and associate chief justices from across the country, will now give Camp a chance to make written submissions before deciding on a formal recommendation to make to the federal justice minister. If they recommend his removal, and the justice minister signs off, Parliament will need to approve his firing.

Since it was formed in 1971, the council has only recommended the removal of two judges, both of whom stepped down before the question was brought to a vote in the House of Commons and the Senate.

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