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Judge in ‘knees together’ trial resigns after council recommends he be fired

The Globe and Mail with Constance Backhouse 09 March 2017

A judge has resigned over his conduct of a rape trial in the face of a blistering recommendation for his removal from a national disciplinary body.

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp had asked a complainant in a 2014 rape trial why she did not keep her knees together, and mocked the law of consent. At a hearing conducted last fall by a disciplinary panel established by the Canadian Judicial Council, the 19-year-old homeless complainant said Justice Camp’s comment made her hate herself and feel like a slut. After the panel unanimously recommended his removal, Justice Camp went to great lengths to save his job. He publicly apologized to the complainant and his fellow judges.

He called his knees-together comment “unforgivable,” and acknowledged that he had perceived the complainant’s fragility. He attended in-depth counselling and education sessions with several feminist scholars, three of whom testified at his disciplinary hearing last fall (attended daily by his wife and daughter) that he was sincerely interested in changing.

And he fought for an opportunity to appear in person before the larger body of judicial council members who considered the panel’s recommendation, to explain to them that he had acted out of “ignorance, not animus.”

The council would receive only written submissions from him.

By a vote of 19 to 4, the judicial council said in its ruling released on Thursday that the deep harm Justice Camp had done to public confidence made his dismissal necessary.

“We find that the Judge’s conduct, viewed in its totality and in light of all of its consequences, was so manifestly and profoundly destructive of the concept of 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 council said.

All four dissenters, who found Judge Camp guilty of misconduct but opposed his dismissal, are male, and from the Atlantic provinces (one is Chief Justice of the Tax Court of Canada).

Alice Woolley, the president of the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics and a law professor at the University of Calgary, who, along with three other professors, filed the first complaint against Justice Camp, said she is pleased with the outcome.

“I don’t think anything would have been served by carrying this on any further,” she said. “The denunciation was unequivocal. I think [resigning] was the admirable decision on his part and the right thing to do.”

Constance Backhouse, chair in sexual assault legislation at the University of Ottawa’s law school, said rape myths are still pervasive in the justice system and society.