The inquiry committee of the Canadian Judicial Council, the regulatory body that oversees the Canadian judiciary, has unanimously recommended that Justice Robin Camp be removed from the bench (http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justice-robin-camp-rape-trial-inquiry-report-1.3875504).
Although Justice Camp was appointed a judge of the Federal Court in 2015, his actions prompting the review by the Canadian Judicial Council stem from his time as a Provincial Court judge in Alberta, where he presided over criminal cases.
The case at the centre of the controversy involved a sexual assault trial in which Justice Camp made several disturbing comments, including repeatedly referring to the complainant as “the accused” and asking her, “Why didn’t you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn’t penetrate you?” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/robin-camp-judge-inquiry-calgary-1.3750135)
It is worth noting that by the time of his hearing in front of the Judicial Council, Justice Camp recognized that his actions were “problematic”. He admitted both misconduct and failing to duly execute the judicial office. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/robin-camp-judge-inquiry-calgary-1.3750135)
The committee found that Justice Camp “made comments or asked questions evidencing an antipathy towards laws designed to protect vulnerable witnesses, promote equality, and bring integrity to sexual assault trials.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/robin-camp-federal-court-judge-inquiry-committee-report-1.3874314)
in order to have been called to the Bar in Canada, any foreign-trained lawyer must satisfy a provincial law society that he or she is familiar with Canadian laws and regulations.
Although Justice Camp’s comments in the sexual assault trial were, quite frankly, indefensible, he attempted to provide some explanation for his comments by explaining that he was not aware of the history, development, and context of Canada’s sexual assault laws. (https://www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca/cmslib/general/Camp_Docs/2016-11-29%20CJC%20Camp%20Inquiry%20Committee%20Report.pdf) Some media sources have connected this to the fact that Justice Camp received his law degree from a university in South Africa and practiced for a significant portion of his career in Botswana, where he would not have received much exposure to Canadian laws.
However, in order to have been called to the Bar in Canada, any foreign-trained lawyer must satisfy a provincial law society that he or she is familiar with Canadian laws and regulations.
It is worth noting that according to Justice Camp’s biography on the federal government’s website, he practiced in the area of commercial litigation before he was appointed to the bench to hear criminal law matters in the Provincial Court of Alberta in 2012. (http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=992419)
Christie Blatchford, writing for the National Post, points out that Justice Camp’s particular area of expertise from his time as a practicing lawyer was in the realm of “contractual, trust, oil and gas law.” (http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/christie-blatchford-judge-was-wildly-unfamiliar-not-just-with-sexual-assault-law-but-with-criminal-law-itself)
Provincial Court judges are appointed at the provincial government level, while all judges of superior and appeal-level courts are appointed by the federal government.
Criminal law is very different from civil litigation and corporate law. It may seem somewhat peculiar that a lawyer with little to no experience in criminal law would be elevated to the bench and appointed to a position of hearing exclusively criminal law matters, but this happens quite often.
Ignorance of the law is not a valid defence for accused individuals in a court of law
Provincial Court judges are appointed at the provincial government level, while all judges of superior and appeal-level courts are appointed by the federal government. (The Provincial Court hears the majority of criminal law cases in a given jurisdiction.) Unfortunately, partisanship remains a significant factor in judicial appointments, which in some cases may explain the appointment of one individual over another individual who would appear to have more directly relevant experience in a particular area (such as criminal law).
In any event, it is significant that the committee was not persuaded by Justice Camp’s argument that he should remain on the bench. Ignorance of the law is not a valid defence for accused individuals in a court of law; the unanimous recommendation of the committee makes it quite clear that an “ignorance” defence similarly should not be put forth by a judge accused of judicial misconduct. Certainly, a judge should know better.