Reinstating “knees together” judge would harm victims of sexual assault

Former Alberta judge Robin Camp resigned from Federal Court in March after the Canadian Judicial Council recommended he be removed from the Bench. The recommendation followed Camp’s remarks in a 2014 sexual assault trial, during which he asked why the complainant didn’t prevent the attack by “keeping her knees together.” Now, he is seeking reinstatement to the bar as a lawyer.

Many would be quick to point out that Camp is not a sexual predator. His character witnesses have described him as a “very, very good person” who made a few stupid comments at work. And in 2017, a year defined by dozens of men facing career-ending allegations of sexual assault and harassment, many have likened the influx of accusations to a “witch hunt.” Most educated people are probably in favour of rapists and sexual predators losing their jobs after decades of exploiting their professional and cultural power over women. But should the same consequences apply to Camp?

Reinstating Camp, even only as a lawyer, fundamentally endangers sexual assault and harassment victims. As members of the justice system, lawyers exercise power and influence over a legal system which already has problems in supporting victims of assault and harassment. And although Camp himself may not be a predator, his comments actively support a system which benefits predators at the expense of their victims.

While Camp claims he would focus his attention on corporate, environmental, commercial, or oil and gas practice, leaving his criminal litigation days in the past, the mere gesture of reinstating him in a position of legal authority disregards the traumatic experiences that sexual assault victims are already faced with in the Canadian criminal justice system. A Statistics Canada study showed that less than 6% of sexual assaults in Canada are reported to the police. Allowing men like Camp, who referred to the complainant in the 2014 trial as “the accused” multiple times, back into the courtroom, actively reinforces a culture of victim-blaming that disproportionately protects rapists and leaves their victims vulnerable.

Camp underwent training with a superior court judge, a psychologist, and a sexual assault law expert after the 2014 incident that he claims made him “a better person.” Unfortunately, his remarks that being publicly shamed for his comments “was not a pleasant experience for me” contradict any potential redemption that the training might have offered him. If Camp were truly a changed man, willing to support women who come forward about sexual assault, he would be able to acknowledge that his statements were inappropriate and reprehensible, without presenting a sob story about how hard the whole experience has been for him.

Most importantly, the Camp case demonstrates why it’s so hard to destroy rape culture. Rape culture is made up of two components: everyday people who hold incorrect and ignorant beliefs about rapists and their victims, and important people in positions of power who support and validate those same ignorant beliefs. Camp, as an Alberta judge, had a societal responsibility to work to dismantle beliefs that blame victims for their rape or suggest that men who rape women are somehow not accountable for their actions. In failing that responsibility, he proved that he can’t be trusted to hold any position of legal authority in this province or in this country. Perhaps instead, the Law Society (which has taken a neutral stance on Camp’s case) should work to admit new lawyers and judges who will uphold that responsibility and work to dismantle rape culture as it exists in Canada’s legal system.

And for those who argue that barring Camp from legal practice is keeping a perfectly qualified man out of a job: Camp is 65. Maybe it’s time for him and his outdated ideas to retire.

Katherine DeCoste

Katherine DeCoste wishes she was a houseplant, but instead she's a third-year English and history honours student. When she's not writing reviews of plays or hot takes about fossil fuels, she also dabbles in poetry, playwriting, and other non-fiction, which she has published in various places. Other interests include making and eating bread.

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