I was pleasantly surprised late last night to read that Federal Justice, Robin Camp who grew up in South Africa, may lose his position for deeply inappropriate, insensitive, unfathomable, and just plain stupid comments made throughout a 2014 sexual assault trial in Alberta, Canada. The Canadian Judicial Council concluded there was enough evidence to recommend Justice Camp be removed from power. That recommendation will go to Parliament, the body that actually decides Camp’s fate.
The surprise is due to the reality that only two other judges have been forced out of their job for misconduct since the CJC was founded in 1971. In both cases, like any self-respecting person, the maligned judges resigned their positions before Parliament made it’s decision. If ‘three’ seems like an impossibly low number over forty-five years, its because it is statistically improbable that among the federal judge population only a negligible amount of justices would be deserving of formal sanction. It goes to show that those in power are afforded latitudes that the rest of society could never expect. It appears that a judge’s actions must be so egregious – bordering on the unconscionable – before the social and political elite will strip one of their own of power.
This story made its way into the headlines throughout the summer and, especially, into the fall when the CJC began it’s inquiry into Mr. Camp’s actions to determine if he had offended the integrity of his position. And rightfully so. Not only did Camp have the gall to ask the 19 year-old female complainant, who Camp repeatedly referred to as the “accused,” why she couldn’t keep her knees closed as she was raped over a bathroom sink at a house party, but he also questioned why she didn’t employ more vigour to fend off her attacker – who outweighed his victim by at least 100 pounds. According to Camp, she should have prevented vaginal penetration by “skew[ing] her pelvis” or thrusting her buttocks into the sink basin. And, obviously, so sayeth Camp: drunk girls want to have sex and sometimes that sex is naturally coupled with pain.
Camp wasn’t to be dissuaded from his attack on the complainant. He took it upon himself to question the complainant’s moral compass, concluding that her personal morality left “much to be desired.” The complainant, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, was homeless and struggled with addictions on the streets of Calgary. It appears that Camp believed her to be part of the “other” – the group that can be scuffed-off and dismissed. Withheld from justice. Denied decency and their basic humanity. Normally, I would say Camp threw everything into his personal defence (of the actual accused – the rapist – before acquitting him) save the bathroom sink, but he brilliantly covered that legal loophole, too.
Apparently, the idioms of “blind justice” and “judicial impartiality” are legal principles in Camp’s mind that are only befitting a complainant meeting his personal criteria of appropriate social and economic prerequisites. It should go without saying that these foundational ideals – enshrined and encoded in legal systems throughout the western world – are meant to guide justices past bias based on unfounded beliefs regarding a person’s appearance, culture, ethnicity, sex, religion, or socio-economic status.
Equally incredible was the defence of Camp. During the judicial review, Camp’s daughter, Lauren, was placed in an unenviable position. With her father’s federal judgeship and legacy on the line, she painfully disclosed on the record her own unreported rape in their family home. Allegedly, Camp’s own daughter went through a similar experience to the complainant, but there was no gentleness, no compassion, no benefit of the doubt, or empathy shown for the latter, likely due to her station in life: homeless; struggling; the decay of western society. Or, perhaps Camp poorly treated his own daughter, too, but this would have been an even more tragic admission. Either way, I have deep empathy for both victims – of sexual assault and Camp’s treatment.
After all, the best defence Lauren could muster during her testimony was that her dad was “old-fashioned” and “there are gaps in his understanding of how women think and experience life.” The excuse is bewildering, and it feels forced – really, contrived. Even rehearsed. No male has to understand how a woman thinks or their personal life experience to appreciate that “No” actually means “No.” In fact, by the time boys are five, they know there are (sometimes) dire consequences if they do not heed this command. Inevitably, when that boy asks, “Why?” the short answer for the adult is “Because I said so.” This is well-engrained in children regardless of religion, sex, culture, or socio-economic status. And “because I said so” was the only justification the complainant needed to stop any unwanted sexual advances from her attacker, even if she was initially accepting of those advances.
A psychologist also defended Camp’s actions, and her testimony is farcical. The suggestion that Camp has undergone intensive “re-education” and therapy to better understand and appreciate the ways of the Canadian judicial system as well as Canadian societal norms and expectations to right his personal wrongs, perceptions, and misconceptions is similar to rehabilititation programs for convicted offenders. Yes, felons need to learn different behaviours or how to deal with their emotions in a socially acceptable manner, but they are convicted. Guilty. Wrong in the eyes of their peers. That is, it is not an acceptable defence that a powerful man required further education that was, unbeknownst to him, withheld – in this case, at the age of five – and, therefore, should be allowed to remain on the bench. Absolutely not. Ignorance of the law; of judicial principles; of common decency; of your daughter’s own experience does not a defence make.
Moreover, the deployment of Camp’s upbringing in South Africa as a legitimate excuse for his deplorable way of thinking is outside the bounds of reasonability. When Camp was called to the bench in Canada, his peers judged him to be of sound mind and reflective of Canadian values and ideals. To be sure, even in allegedly-culturally-backward South Africa, in 2015 a judge somehow managed to see through the drama and absurdity of Oscar Pistorius’ defence and convicted the Olympian of murder in the horrific death of then-girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius’ jail sentence was exceptionally light and he is currently serving it in relative luxury, but even the South African judge got it right. Pistorius was guilty and his actions required formal sanction and discipline.
So, too, does Camp’s demonstrated disposition. His actions were reckless. The five-member CJC board found that Camp had done harm to legal precedence, to future sexual assault victims, and reinforced myths that were long ago debunked. At this moment, I think it more than appropriate for the collective-Canadian conscious to sound the refrain, “No shit!” Victim-blaming, -shaming, -degrading is unacceptable. Comments dripping with vacuous misogyny, righteous condemnation, and damning condescension have no place in Canadian society, especially within those whom wield constitutional authority. If Camp didn’t learn some of these lessons when he was a boy, he ought to have picked them up in university and law school in the 1970s, or when he wrote his qualifying exams and was admitted to the Canadian bar in 1999, or during his countless interactions with Canadians over the fifteen years prior to presiding over the sexual assault case that will hopefully end his career.
Now Robin Camp will actually feel the pain of being publicly maligned like he maligned the complainant (or was she the “accused”?). He is disgraced. Soon to be cast aside. Treated like the “other.” The difference in his particular circumstances, of course, is that the treatment wholely fits the crime.