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Judge, why couldn’t you just keep your lips together?

A Canadian judge is in hot water after making off-color comments regarding a sexual assault victim and insinuating that she played a role in causing her own attack.

“Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” This is a question that Canadian Judge Robin Camp currently regrets asking a 19-year-old woman who said she was raped over a bathroom sink during a house party.

Federal Court Judge Camp is currently in the midst of a week-long judicial hearing by the Canadian Judicial Council that will determine whether or not he should remain on the bench due to his controversial statements.  Among other statements, Judge Camp also asked the victim why she did not “skew her pelvis” or push her bottom into the sink to avoid penetration.

Judge Camp is recorded asking the victim “why she allowed the sex to happen if she didn’t want it,”

The 2014 case transcript is mind-blowing as it paints a vivid picture of the tension that existed in the courtroom.  Judge Camp is recorded asking the victim “why she allowed the sex to happen if she didn’t want it,” and proclaiming that “young women want to have sex, particularly if they’re drunk.”  Further, Judge Camp constantly downplays the victim’s story by saying “I don’t believe there’s any talk of an attack really,” and “there’s no real talk of real force.”  When prosecutor Mograbee attempted to educate the judge on the definition of “consent” the Judge abruptly stopped her by saying “Please, Ms. Mograbee, we’re all grown-ups here,” insinuating that Mograbee was simply trying to “sugar coat” the issues in the case.

It is easy to see why there has been outrage and downright disgust at Judge Camp’s comments.  Four law professors decided to take action by filing a complaint against the Judge.  These professors from Dalhousie University and the University of Calgary described the Judge as having “demonstrated absolute disregard and disdain for the affirmative definition of consent to sexual touching established by the Supreme Court of Canada.”

“While the laws in both Canada and the United States have moved in leaps and bounds towards the expansion of the definition of a rape victim, Judge Camp’s statements brings back memories of a time when rape victims had to pass seemingly insurmountable hurdles to put their rapist behind bars.”

Although many are surprised, saddened and angered at the judge’s comments, his perception of sexual violence has been around for centuries.  While the laws in both Canada and the United States have moved in leaps and bounds towards the expansion of the definition of a rape victim, Judge Camp’s statements brings back memories of a time when rape victims had to pass seemingly insurmountable hurdles to put their rapist behind bars.  Historically, only the “classic stranger rape stereotype” where the victim was violently attacked in a back alley in the middle of the night, was accepted as being “legitimate” — assuming of course that the woman had not engaged in any “questionable” behavior such as drinking alcohol or wearing suggestive clothing.

Today, the Canadian legal system largely mirrors the American system when it comes to proving a sexual assault.  Both systems use evidence that stems from witness statements, forensic evidence, photographic evidence, and most importantly, victim testimony.  One thing that is unique to Canada is the “reasonable steps” requirement for consensual sex.  This requirement holds that a person must take “reasonable steps” to ensure that sexual activity is being consented to, and that the absence of a “no” is not sufficient.  It was this requirement, that Judge Camp found “a little extreme,” as prosecutor Mograbee tried to explain it to him.

“Had a judge in the United States made these same comments, there is little doubt that the aftermath would have been similar, if not identical, to the Canadian process.”

Under Canada’s ethical principles for judges, judges are (among other things) bound to uphold equality.  The principles state that judges should carry out their duties without discrimination as to gender, race, religious conviction, sexual orientation, etc.  Further, under these guidelines, judges should appear impartial when presiding over trials and should assess situations from the viewpoint of a reasonable, fair minded and informed person.  Judge Camp clearly failed to uphold these two principles as he presided over this case.

Canada’s judicial ethics do not differ significantly from those in the United States.  Although organized differently, Canon 2 of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct also requires judges in the United States to perform their duties impartially, fairly and without bias.  Had a judge in the United States made these same comments, there is little doubt that the aftermath would have been similar, if not identical, to the Canadian process.

“I want you to tell your friends, your male friends, that they have to be far more gentle with women.  They have to be far more patient.  And they have to be very careful.  To protect themselves, they have to be very careful…”

Judge Camp acquitted Alexander Scott Wager of sexual assault on September 9, 2014; and the egregious and downright inappropriate comments continued as he sent Mr. Wager away with some words of encouragement.  “I want you to tell your friends, your male friends, that they have to be far more gentle with women.  They have to be far more patient.  And they have to be very careful.  To protect themselves, they have to be very careful.”

“Although Judge Camp has documented an apparent overhaul of his backward way of thinking, it still remains to be seen whether this will be enough for him to keep his seat on the bench.” 

Judge Camp has since apologized for his statements, calling them “rude and insulting,” and has attempted to defend himself by saying he had a nearly “non-existent” knowledge of criminal law when he presided over this case and that because his career consisted primarily of contract and bankruptcy cases, he did not receive training on how to deal with sexual assault cases.  He has also undergone both counseling and training with a Superior Court judge psychologist and with an expert on the law of sexual assault in an effort to question his beliefs and improve his knowledge of the law concerning sexual violence and the psychological impact of sexual assault on victims.

Although Judge Camp has documented an apparent overhaul of his backward way of thinking, it still remains to be seen whether this will be enough for him to keep his seat on the bench.  It is very possible that the counseling and training that has been broadcasted to the world is simply damage control because the judge fears being booted from the bench.  Has Judge Camp really changed the way he views sexual assault victims? And if so, is he really ready to be given free rein to preside over other cases that may involve sexual assault?

It is doubtful that 64-year-old Camp has been able to “see the error of his ways” by participating in just a few counseling sessions, but nonetheless, the panel investigating Judge Camp’s conduct will send its recommendation to the entire Canadian Judicial Council after its hearing on Monday, September 19th.  This recommendation will largely determine the judge’s future.

Needless to say, the Alberta Court of Appeal ordered a new trial in the 2014 case last month after the verdict was appealed and overturned.  The new trial is scheduled for November 2016.

Kendra Alleyne, Associate Editor
About Kendra Alleyne, Associate Editor (17 Articles)
Kendra Alleyne is a third year law student and serves as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer. She is from Lynchburg, Virginia and graduated from Liberty University for a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Over the summer following her first year of law school, Kendra worked as a legal internship at Colon & Associates, where she is currently still interning. Kendra also serves as the Public Relations Chair for Campbell University’s Black Law Student Association.
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