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Let's talk about the Robin Camps we don't yet know about

Dismissing one out-of-touch judge as an unrepresentative pariah isn't going to rid the justice system of the myths and biases that harm sexual-assault victims

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp walks during a break with his daughter Lauren-Lee at a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry in a Calgary hotel, Friday, September 9, 2016.

Staff / The Canadian Press

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp walks during a break with his daughter Lauren-Lee at a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry in a Calgary hotel, Friday, September 9, 2016.

Who else?

It’s abundantly clear that Robin Camp was allowed to sit on a provincial bench (and then enjoy an appointment to federal court) while harbouring sexist biases that impacted his ability to do his job. But the glum, apologetic Alberta judge, who is now enduring a headline-grabbing inquiry for suggesting a sexual assault victim should have kept “her knees together,” is no outlier.

The important question isn’t whether Camp will keep his job; it’s who else has gone under the radar, who else might be outed, fired or reformed.

Camp is arguing that he has wised up, thanks to sensitivity and gender-discrimination training, plus a refresher on rape-shield laws. Unlike those demanding his dismissal, I’m willing to believe him. I have to. The alternative is a justice system wholly unreliable and, worse, unfixable.

“By no means is this a unique case, by no means whatever,” said Kathleen Mahoney, QC, a law professor at the University of Calgary.

She would know. For decades, Mahoney has been at the centre of judicial-education efforts, part of a movement, begun in the 1980s, that has sought to ensure the Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t turn out to be an “empty promise.” But she and her allies lost a key battle: to make judicial education mandatory.

“To me the Camp case is an indication of the failure of judicial education to ensure that judges, to some extent, are protected from making these kinds of errors,” Mahoney said.

The excuse has always been that mandatory training would infringe on judicial independence. That line, according to Adam Dodek, co-author of the forthcoming book “Regulating Judges,” has been “viewed as quite a stretch” by some and “baseless or worse” by others. Mandatory training exists elsewhere, he said, and “the Canadian judiciary as a whole lags behind the world” in training judges.

Camp’s biases were outlandish and egregious. The system would be a joke if he weren’t facing an inquiry. But many other judges undoubtedly harbour similar views, hiding them inside legally defensible decisions nonetheless coloured by rape myths and sexism.

If there’s any group, other than sexual assault victims, that should want this to change, it’s judges.

Bias in one generates suspicion of them all, and makes a mockery of the oath to mete out justice fairly. It feeds the growing crisis of faith in our courts. Already, the vast majority of women don’t even bother to report rapes and assaults. They know, because the data on this is irrefutable, that justice for sexual assault is doled out in pitifully few cases.

Judges are, in part, to blame. And there’s only one way for them to prove they care about improving the situation: admit, as Camp has, that they have a lot to learn.

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