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In all likelihood, judge who told rape survivor to 'keep her knees together' will return to the bench

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Photo: Andrew Balfour/Federal Court of Canada

If I were a betting man, I'd say Judge Robin Camp will not be dumped from the Alberta bench by the Canadian Judicial Council panel in Calgary which is hearing his case. The case is based on the 2014 trial in which he acquitted a man accused of assaulting a 19-year-old woman while verbally assaulting the alleged victim with a whole series of wildly inappropriate comments. Yet some witnesses before the appeal panel have done an impressive job of minimizing the judge's transgressions. 

There's a fascinating pattern to Judge Camp's positions: his repeated inability to learn elementary common sense. He has now for example apologized for the many comments he acknowledges were offensive and unacceptable -- "knees together," "put your bottom in the basin," etc. He's  explained that, since the original trial, he has undergone counseling with experts to improve his understandings of sexual assault. These counsellors included a judge from Manitoba, a law professor known as a feminist, and a psychologist. All are women, and all seem to be prepared to give him a second chance.

It's from one of them that he learned, as he now says, that he's had "deep-seated prejudices towards sexual assault victims." He means "against" these victims, believing that "all women behave the same way and they should resist." A strange set of prejudices indeed. Did that include Judge Camp's daughter, who herself sadly had been violated, as he knew? Clearly he believed it included the victim in this case, a homeless Indigenous woman whom he kept calling "the accused"?

There are several remaining questions.

Camp became a lawyer in Alberta in 1999, a judge in 2012. He was soon appointed head of the Alberta Domestic Violence Court. How is it possible that in all that time he remained ignorant about assaults against women and their re-victimization by the judicial system that were regularly making major news across Canada. Countless Canadians were seized with the issue. Camp's own grown daughter knew only too much about it; he was aware of the assault on her and, thankfully, was sympathetic. Yet as a judge he grasped the significance of none of it and has needed counselling in recent months to bring him up to speed. Picture the counselling session: "See Judge, here's the thing: it's not really okay for a man to assault and rape a woman. You got that now?"   

Another question: If he's now had counselling and has persuaded some female experts that he's a changed man, how come even this past week he kept referring to the 2014 complainant as "the accused." Did he miss the counselling session when the difference between victim and perpetrator was spelled out? The "accused" of course was the alleged assaulter, whom he let off scot-free. What does it mean that he can he still describe the complainant, the woman allegedly assaulted, the alleged victim, as "the accused"? I bet there are even some non-lawyers who grasp this subtle distinction. What does it mean that Camp can't see it yet?

Much is made of Judge Camp's many years as a lawyer in South Africa. After he moved to Alberta, one of the most sensational trials in post-apartheid South Africa attracted international attention. Jacob Zuma, now president of South Africa, was accused of raping a woman. Part of the apartheid legacy has been widespread sexual violence against women. In his case, Zuma claimed the act was consensual. He was acquitted. Except for his political followers, few believed his claims and many felt betrayed when he got off. Did Judge Camp miss this entire sensational case or did he learn nothing from it either?

For all these reasons, most of Judge Camp's defence seems less than credible too me. If you read the reports by the experts who counselled him, it seems that all of his shocking comments to the complainant -- you know, "the accused" -- can somehow be explained away. Even the most outrageous and vile ones, of which there was an abundance. Nor does it feel likely that the direct crushing impact of Judge Camp's repeated verbal assaults on the defendant will be taken into account. Yet he himself calls them "unforgivable." That is exactly the right word, and he should not be forgiven.

But I'll make this prediction: here we go again. It's the Ghomeshi trial all over again. Few observers doubted that Ghomeshi was guilty of many of the accusations made against him, yet the most obvious victims of his trial and acquittal were his accusers. There was a fair and open trial, the rule of law obtained throughout, and justice lost.

In Alberta too we have had a fair and open hearing, the rule of law is being followed scrupulously, and Judge Camp will probably keep his job.  Justice will be the loser once again, as will women collectively. The original complainant will be victimized for a second time. The judge who could not learn will return to judge another day.

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Photo: Andrew Balfour/Federal Court of Canada

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