Alberta judge who asked sex assault complainant about keeping her knees closed has changed: mentor

WATCH ABOVE: It was day two for a disciplinary hearing surrounding a Calgary judge. Justice Robin Camp is fighting to keep his job after his reputation is being called into question for comments he made during a sex assault trial. Jill Croteau has the latest developments.

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.

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Watch below: Defence for Justice Robin Camp presents case at hearing

Defence for Justice Robin Camp presents case at hearing
Defence for Justice Robin Camp presents case at hearing

“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.

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

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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.

READ MORE: Lawyer to argue ignorance no basis for removal of Justice Robin Camp

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

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.

READ MORE: Sex assault complainant testifies at review of Alberta judge who asked her why she couldn’t keep her knees together

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.”

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

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READ MORE: Alberta judge who asked sex assault complainant why she couldn’t keep knees together to apologize

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.

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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.”

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READ MORE: Alberta justice minister forces inquiry into judge

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.

READ MORE: ‘Victim-blaming is still alive and well,’ says Sheldon Kennedy on Alberta judge