A sexual assault victim says she would have had second thoughts about going through with the “gut-wrenching” experience of the courts if a case involving a judge’s controversial comments had happened first.
Sarah, a 32-year-old who didn’t want her last name used, was sexually assaulted in 2011.
It took five years before her attacker was convicted and sentenced to 2-and-a -half years in prison. She said she watched the Alexander Wager case closely.
Wagar was acquitted for a second time on Tuesday in a retrial ordered as a result of remarks made at the original trial in 2014 by Robin Camp, who was a provincial court judge in Calgary. He repeatedly called the complainant “the accused” and asked her why she couldn’t “keep her knees together.”
Watch below: A judge handed down a not guilty verdict for a man in a sex assault retrial that was ordered after the original judge asked the complainant why she didn’t keep her knees together.
“That’s the person who is supposed to be unbiased and who’s not supposed to have an opinion until he has all of the facts,” Sarah told The Canadian Press. “Then he tells her it was basically her fault and she should have kept her legs together.
“That’s the very definition of revictimizing — and twice with the same outcome? If I had read about that before, I would have been a lot more reluctant going forward.”
Sarah feels sympathy for the complainant and remembers how terrified she was when she took the witness stand.
“It’s like you’re reliving it but in a public platform. I was quite nervous. I was quite anxious,” she said.
“It was gut-wrenching. It’s terrifying to go through the court process once, let alone twice.”
Kim Stanton, legal director for the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, is worried that current and future victims will be afraid to come forward.
“Other women survivors … will be even more reluctant now to report an assault,” Stanton said of the Wagar verdict.
“Unfortunately, the criminal justice system simply does not work for survivors.”
“These cases of ‘he said-she said’ … really are unique and challenging. It was enormously brave of her to go through this a second time and it will be very concerning for other survivors to consider bringing their own cases forward.”
The Crown prosecutor in the case also expressed her concern after the verdict.
“We have an unfortunate statistic in Canada that most complainants do not come forward, and I don’t see how this particular circumstance would change that,” Janice Walsh said outside court Tuesday.
Watch below: Crown Prosecutor reacts to a not guilty verdict in a sexual assault retrial that involved Justice Robin Camp’s comment
Danielle Aubry, executive director of the Calgary Communities Against Sexual Assault, has previously pointed to estimates that 97 per cent of sexual assaults are never reported.
Stanton said the latest verdict should in no way be considered a victory for Camp, who is now a Federal Court judge.
“We shouldn’t take this verdict to any way be a vindication for Justice Camp,” she said.
“Both the Alberta Court of Appeal and the committee of the Canadian Judicial Council were very clear that there were valid and very serious concerns with respect to how he conducted that trial.”
The Appeal Court ordered the retrial in the Wagar case. Complaints about Camp’s comments led to a hearing by a Canadian Judicial Council panel, which recommended he be removed from the bench. The council is deciding whether to adopt the recommendation.
Camp’s lawyer declined to comment on the Wagar verdict.