Calgary judge in ‘knees together’ case has worked to change: mentor

A Manitoba justice who helped in Robin Camp’s rehabilitation spoke at his Canadian Judicial Council hearing

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp takes his seat at a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp takes his seat at a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY – A Manitoba justice says she was initially appalled by the comments a judge made to a sex-assault complainant but agreed to mentor him.

Deborah McCawley was the only witness Wednesday before a Canadian Judicial Council hearing prompted by complaints about Justice Robin Camp, who asked a woman in a 2014 sex-assault trial why she didn’t keep her knees together. A council committee is to determine whether he should keep his job.

“I was taken aback to say the least. I was quite appalled at some of the words, some of the language used,” McCawley recalled thinking when first approached about mentoring Camp.

“I wondered if I was wasting his time and his money. He was 63, a white South African male.”

But she realized she was prejudging Camp.

“I myself was guilty of the kind of thinking I’ve spent my whole career railing against,” she said.

McCawley said she went with her instinct that he was “very sincere and committed — and I never doubted that again.”

MORE: The stakes of the Justice Robin Camp review

Camp’s comments while he was a provincial court judge in Calgary in 2014 led the Alberta Appeal Court to order a new trial for the man he acquitted.

Court transcripts show Camp, who is now 64, questioned the complainant’s morals, suggested her attempts to fight off the man were feeble and described her as “the accused” throughout the trial.

He asked her: “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” and said “pain and sex sometimes go together.”

On Tuesday, the woman testified she hated herself and had contemplated suicide as a result of her experience.

Camp, who was born in South Africa, originally had a legal-aid practice which included some criminal law. As he became more senior, he took on mostly litigation cases. According to an agreed statement of facts, he was involved in the anti-apartheid movement and represented members of the African National Congress.

After moving to Calgary in 1998, his practice focused mainly on contractual, bankruptcy and trust law, as well as on oil and gas litigation.

He was named an Alberta provincial court judge in 2012, but did not receive training or judicial education on sexual assault law or how to conduct sex-assault trials.

“What we learned in law school didn’t equip us to do a lot of things,” said McCawley, who noted such trials are not easy, even for an experienced judge.

“I told him he needed to trust me and … he might need to bare his soul when we talked about a lot of this stuff — and he did,” she testified.

“I was struck by the fact his motivation was very much for the pain he had brought to his colleagues and his court and the damage he had done to the administration of justice.”

McCawley said Camp received counselling, did a lot of reading and research and attended a three-day judicial conference which included courses entitled Sex Assault 101 and How to Conduct a Sex Assault Trial.

She told the committee he is “teachable” and she is still surprised at the trial transcript.

“He’s not a misogynist. He is not a racist. He’s extremely fair-minded. Part of my difficulty was trying to reconcile the transcript with the person in front of me,” she said.

“The more he grew, the more I realized he had the capacity to do the job and do it well. He’s a very compassionate, empathetic person.”

The committee is make recommendations to the full judicial council. If it decides Camp should be removed from the bench, the final recommendation will be sent to the federal justice minister.

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