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Judge in "knees together" case admits "non-existent" knowledge of criminal law

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp, centre, leaves a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry in a Calgary hotel, Friday, September 9, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

CALGARY - A Federal Court judge facing possible removal from the bench for inappropriate remarks he made to a sex assault complainant admits his knowledge of Canadian criminal law at the time was "non-existent."

The Canadian Judicial Council is determining the fate of Justice Robin Camp, who has apologized for his attitude toward and questioning of the 19-year-old woman in 2014.

Camp, who was then a provincial court judge, acquitted the man accused in the case after deciding that his version of events was more credible.

Court transcripts show that Camp questioned the woman — "Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?" — and told her that "pain and sex sometimes go together."

The transcripts also show he called the woman "the accused" throughout the trial. The verdict was overturned on appeal and a new trial was ordered.

The legal experience of Camp, who was born in South Africa but moved to Calgary in 1998, has been under the microscope at the hearing.

He originally had a legal-aid practice which included some criminal law but as he became more senior, he focused mainly on contractual, bankruptcy and trust law, as well as on oil and gas litigation.

Camp 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.

"My colleagues knew my knowledge of Canadian law was very minimal. It was non-existent," Camp admitted under questioning from members of the judicial panel Friday.

"I think it's become apparent that I didn't know what I didn't know."

A Manitoba judge who mentored Camp after his comments became public said he didn't know the history of sexual assault law in Canada and why it historically discriminated against women.

"Please remember I wasn't in this country through the 1960s, '70s and '80s," Camp told the hearing. "I was in South Africa, where we had other issues."

When asked what he had done to prepare for his job as a provincial court judge, he said he had spoken to other judges on the bench and done a lot of reading.

"When I started on the bench I was given the 50 most important cases used by provincial criminal judges," he said. "I read the sections on the commentary. I read the leading cases."

Camp was asked if his experience in Canadian criminal law was "quite restricted," and he replied: "It was."

One of the panel members, Nova Scotia's Associate Chief Justice Deborah Smith, asked Camp if he had attended a school for new judges offered by the National Judicial Institute or if the Calgary courthouse had a law library.

"There are judges there that are available and if you have questions or concerns or gaps in your education you can ask the teaching judges these questions," Smith said.

"If you felt there was a gap in your background, in the area of criminal law, you could go to the judicial library and borrow some textbooks in the areas you thought you weren't sufficiently educated."

Camp apologized Friday for his comments to the young woman, calling them "rude and insulting," though he also made reference to her again as "the accused" before quickly correcting himself.

"At some level that I wasn't aware of, I was subject to prejudice ... the prejudice that all women behave the same way and they should resist," he told the hearing.

He said if allowed to stay on the bench, he will make every effort to avoid past mistakes.

"I can't guarantee that I'm not prejudiced in other areas, but what I have learned is to be constantly vigilant ... and to ask for help when I need it," he said. "I was and will always be vigilant ... perfect I will never be."

Closing arguments are to take place Monday. The panel will forward a recommendation to the full Canadian Judicial Council, which will then forward its final recommendation to the federal justice minister.

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