When she entered law school more than 20 years ago, Alice Woolley had big dreams. “You go to law school because you want the legal system to function fairly — that all people are treated with dignity and respect,” says the University of Calgary law professor. “That has been my life’s work.”
So when she came across a Calgary Herald article in October of 2015 about the Alberta Court of Appeal overturning Justice Robin Camp’s 2014 acquittal of Alexander Scott Wagar for sexual assault — it noted “sexual stereotypes and sexual myths” made their way into the trial judge’s judgment — she knew she had to take action.
“I’ve been in this game for a while and I don’t like to think of myself as easily shocked, but I was tremendously shocked,” says Woolley of reading the transcript of the trial, which included the judge repeatedly calling the 19-year-old complainant the accused, asking her why she didn’t just keep her “knees together” and remarking that “pain and sex sometimes go together.”
What was said in this trial was egregious, she says. “The fact it was from the judge made it all the more troubling.”
On Wednesday, Woolley is applauding the decision of an inquiry committee of the Canadian Judicial Council. After reviewing Camp’s conduct in the sexual-assault trial, it concluded that a recommendation by the council that he be removed from the bench was warranted. Camp will be given an opportunity to make written submissions and after “considering all issues,” it noted, “Council will decide on a recommendation to make to the Minister of Justice of Canada in this matter.”
“I’m pleased to have a clear statement that sexist attitudes have no place in the courtroom,” says Woolley. “The council recognized that confidence in the judicial system was at stake.”
RelatedCommittee recommends removal of Justice Robin Camp over 'knees together' case
Along with asking questions that demonstrated “an antipathy toward laws designed to protect vulnerable witnesses, promote equality and bring integrity to sexual-assault trials,” Judge Camp “relied on discredited myths and stereotypes about women and victim-blaming.” A retrial in the criminal case wrapped up Monday and the judge’s ruling is expected Jan. 31.
The findings affirm Woolley’s initial impressions when she first reviewed the transcript of the original trial. “I had a friend at the Crown and he read it with me,” she recalls. “We said, ‘oh, my God, this is jaw-dropping.’ ”
With fellow U of C law professor Jennifer Koshan and two colleagues at Dalhousie University — law professors Elaine Craig and Jocelyn Downie — the expert in legal ethics filed an official complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council. It prompted the council to conduct a hearing into Camp’s conduct, which took place in September.
“Asking for an inquiry was not a decision I took lightly,” Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley said in a news release Wednesday afternoon that praised the committee’s recommendation. “On reviewing the transcripts, I thought it was important that victims know this was not an acceptable way for any victim to be treated by the justice system.”
Like so many others, Danielle Aubry also found the judge’s comments and behaviour unbecoming, although not that surprising. “A lot of judges carry around some negative social norms around women and sexual assault,” says Aubry, executive director of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse. “I think he was just on the extreme end of the continuum.”
Still, she’s happy to see that those appointed to uphold the values of Canada’s justice system pulled no punches in their condemnation of Justice Camp’s conduct. “There would have been a huge outcry if they hadn’t,” she says. “I think a lot of people have been closely watching this in the media, so it was necessary.”
For Alice Woolley, calling out bad behaviour and outmoded attitudes on the bench is not only necessary, but also key to why she entered the field of law all those years ago.
“Change doesn’t come at a point, change comes over time,” she says. “Statements like this, though, help to create positive change.”