He's been called a misogynist. A disgrace. The most dangerous kind of rape myth propagator. And Justice Robin Camp, the Federal Court judge who asked a sex assault complainant in court: "why couldn't you just keep your knees together?" is deserving of those criticisms.But there's another very pressing reason Camp, 64, shouldn't be allowed to oversee criminal trials anymore: he appears to be totally incompetent.
Camp is currently facing an inquiry before the Canadian Judicial Council to determine whether or not he should be removed from the bench. To recap: in 2014, when he was a provincial judge overseeing a sex assault trial in Calgary, he made a number of horrifying comments to the 19-year-old complainant in the case, including posing the "knees together" question, suggesting that "sometimes sex and pain go together," and asking the woman, "Why didn't you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn't penetrate you?" (She was allegedly raped over a bathroom sink.) Camp acquitted the accused, Alexander Scott Wagar, but in light of the judge's apparent bias, a new trial has been ordered.Testifying at Camp's inquiry, the sex assault complainant said the judge "made me hate myself.""He made me feel like I should have done something … that I was some kind of slut," she said.
His insensitivity is even more incomprehensible considering that his own daughter, Lauren-Lee, has been raped—a revelation she made as part of the inquiry.But misogyny aside, the proceedings have raised serious questions about Camp's ability to do his job.For starters, his comments show that he was either unaware or indifferent to Canada's rape shield laws, which are designed to protect sex assault complainants from being discredited based on stereotypes about victim behaviour.
"His articulated disrespect for these legal rules was, in some instances, combined with a refusal to apply them," reads the 11-page complaint about Camp which launched the inquiry. Written by four law professors, the complaint notes that Camp dismissed the rape shield laws as "contemporary thinking."Camp, who is from South Africa and moved to Canada in 1998, also admitted at the inquiry his background in criminal law prior to becoming a judge was "non-existent."According to the Canadian Press, as a lawyer, he focused mainly on contractual, bankruptcy and trust law, and oil and gas litigation. When he became a provincial judge in 2012, "my colleagues knew my knowledge of Canadian law was very minimal," he said, noting he had consulted other judges and read up on the 50 most important criminal cases cited by provincial judges to prep for the new gig. "I think it's become apparent that I didn't know what I didn't know." Despite that, former Conservative justice minister Peter MacKay appointed him to the Federal Court last June.On a very basic level, Camp can't seem to grasp the difference between "the accused" and a "complainant." Throughout the 2014 trial, he referred to the complainant as "the accused"—a mistake he repeated while apologizing for his behaviour at the inquiry last week, before correcting himself. One would maybe expect this kind of error from a newbie reporter covering court for the first time. But a federal judge? And even if we could chalk it up to a slip of the tongue once or twice, it's troubling that two years later—with Camp's job on the line—he still can't get it straight.
In light of the scandal, Camp was assigned three mentors. One of them, Justice Deborah McCawley of Manitoba, testified at the inquiry that Camp was unaware of the history of sex assault law in Canada and how rape myths work against complainants.She claimed he's not a misogynist and is "very amenable to learning." (It seems he's done a bunch more reading lately.) Again though, not particularly reassuring for a man with Camp's level of authority.For his part, Camp has said he wants to keep his job and will "ask for help when I need it.""I was and will always be vigilant … perfect I will never be."No one is expected to be perfect, but a judge should be held to a higher standard than the average person. It's clear that Camp failed miserably to meet that standard once. Sex assault complainants don't deserve to be a part of his learning curve.Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.