Reporting sexual assault is an act of courage. No one who comes forward about an experience of sexual violence should be met with character attacks, insinuations that she was ‘asking for it,’ or blame for failing to fight off the assault – especially not in our justice system, which is supposed to be impartial.
Today, West Coast LEAF is celebrating a public reaffirmation of survivors’ rights in our criminal justice system. Just this morning, the committee of the Canadian Judicial Council that inquired into Justice Robin Camp’s conduct during a sexual assault trial unanimously recommended his removal from the bench. As a member of a coalition of women’s groups that intervened in the inquiry, West Coast LEAF is heartened by the Committee’s recognition that Justice Camp’s reliance on sexist stereotypes and myths about sexual assault is “manifestly and profoundly destructive” to the impartiality, integrity, and independence of his role as a judge. We agree wholeheartedly with the Committee’s finding that Justice Camp’s behaviour has undermined public confidence in the justice system so deeply that he should be removed from the judiciary. West Coast LEAF is hopeful that the outcome of this inquiry will be a step towards repairing Canadians’ confidence in our courts’ handling of sexual assault cases.
West Coast LEAF joined a coalition of women’s organizations from across Canada to intervene in the September 2016 inquiry into the conduct of Justice Camp, who came under fire for asking a sexual assault complainant why she couldn’t just keep her knees together and making numerous other egregious comments during the trial. The coalition stood up for survivors’ right to a justice system free from sexist myths and stereotypes and urged the Inquiry Committee to consider the impacts of Camp’s conduct on women who face multiple layers of discrimination. We are thrilled to see our input reflected in the Inquiry Committee’s final report, which clearly affirms women’s right to a fair and equal justice system and leaves no doubt that sexist remarks and victim-blaming from the bench are unacceptable:
[. . .] Justice Camp made comments or asked questions evidencing an antipathy towards laws designed to protect vulnerable witnesses, promote equality, and bring integrity to sexual assault trials. We also find that the judge relied on discredited myths and stereotypes about women and victim-blaming during the trial and in his reasons for judgment.
Decades ago, sexual assault law was reformed to shield survivors from precisely the type of victim-blaming that Justice Camp displayed. We are proud that the coalition’s intervention in the inquiry has challenged the erosion of hard-won legal progress for survivors’ rights and defended women’s entitlement to the full protection of the law when reporting sexual violence perpetrated against them.
We are grateful to our coalition partners, who stood with us to defend equality: the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, the Ending Violence Association of BC, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, METRAC, and LEAF (Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund).
We are also grateful to you, our supporters, who share West Coast LEAF’s conviction that a more equal justice system for survivors is both necessary and attainable.