This Inquiry concerns the conduct of a judge while he presided over a sexual assault trial (R v Wagar) as a judge of the Provincial Court of Alberta, including the judge’s remarks that: “sex and pain sometimes go together […] that’s not necessarily a bad thing”; “young wom[e]n want to have sex, particularly if they’re drunk”; and “why couldn’t [the complainant] just keep [her] knees together.” The Inquiry Committee of the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) will determine whether this judge is fit to continue in his role on the Federal Court of Canada.
The Attorney General of Alberta lodged a complaint with the CJC relating to the judge’s conduct at the trial. The CJC has convened this Inquiry into the AG’s complaint to consider whether Justice Camp has become “incapacitated or disabled from the due execution of the office of judge” and should therefore be removed from office.
During the trial, the judge made numerous comments which reflect his disregard for the rape shield laws designed to protect the integrity of complainants in sexual assault cases and to promote confidence in the justice system. Rape shield laws apply in criminal sexual assault trials to limit the use of a woman’s sexual history and other irrelevant characteristics to show that she is more likely to have consented to sexual contact or that her account of the incident is untrustworthy. During the trial and in his reasons for judgment, the judge is alleged to have engaged in stereotyping of complainants and relying on myths about how victims of sexual assault ought to behave. Among other things, the judge questioned whether the complainant had consented because she had not fought off the accused; denigrated her character; blamed her for the assault; and suggested that she should have avoided the attack.
Complaint from Attorney General of Alberta to CJC
Application for Leave to Intervene by Coalition:
West Coast LEAF’s Involvement
West Coast LEAF has joined with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, Ending Violence Association of British Columbia (EVA BC), the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW), Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund Inc. (LEAF) to intervene in the Inquiry. The coalition of feminist organizations argued that:
- where the law has been reformed to remedy inequality in the justice system, such as the rape shield laws, judges must respect that purpose when interpreting and applying the law in particular cases; and
- where the judge’s actions reintroduce the very harms that the law was reformed to correct, that is relevant to the assessment of the judge’s conduct.
This Inquiry has provided an important opportunity to resist unlawful and harmful myths and stereotypes about sexual assault complainants, which persist even at the highest levels of the justice system. The impact of the judge’s conduct resonates beyond the circumstance of this particular case or complainant. It exacerbates the crisis in confidence faced by the criminal justice system insofar as equal and respectful treatment of survivors of sexual assault are concerned, and turns back the clock on legal protections intended to permit women to testify in court without fear of being blamed and shamed.
On November 30th, 2016, the Inquiry Committee released its report, including the unanimous recommendation that Justice Camp be removed from the bench. West Coast LEAF is heartened by the Committee’s strong confirmation that sexist stereotypes and victim blaming are unacceptable in the judiciary and profoundly harmful to the integrity of the justice system:
“[. . .] [We] find that throughout the Trial 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.  Accordingly, we find that Justice Camp committed misconduct and placed himself, by his conduct, in a position incompatible with the due execution of the office of judge within the meaning of ss. 65(2)(b) and (d) of the Judges Act.”
- July 2016 news alert: Standing up for survivors’ right to fair treatment in the justice system
- September 2016 news alert: The legal system must be free from sexist, damaging stereotypes
- November 2016 news alert: Victory for survivors’ rights in the justice system
Learn about all our recent work to end sexual assault and support survivors.