The Disconcerting Reinstatement of Robin Camp

  • June 05, 2018
  • Diane Baker Mason

The Law Society of Alberta's recent decision to reinstate former judge Robin Camp is a troubling one.  Mr. Camp made a number of deeply obnoxious and sexist comments while trying a sexual assault case (including, inter alia, calling the victim "the accused" and telling her that sex and pain "sometimes go together"). It seems that a person holding such views would not be an appropriate officer of the court, let alone a judge. Yet here he is being welcomed back into the fold, as a lawyer. There, he will interact with all sexes, despite having demonstrated more-than-just-your-everyday-sexism while on the bench.

But it is difficult to deny Mr. Camp his chance to practise, when he appears to have worked so hard to drag himself into contemporary times. We lawyers are sympathetic to redemption narratives, and this seems to be one. Mr. Camp knows the hurt he caused. He is a changed man - no longer oblivious to the ongoing struggles of women both in his chosen profession and in society-at-large. Although he somehow managed to get through decades on the bench without noticing the huge legal and social changes surrounding the issue of consent and the changes to the rape laws, therapy and instruction have corrected that. He now genuinely "gets it." He has, as he says, five to ten good years left to practise law, which he will do in private practice, away from the bench.

Still, for many of us (particularly women), the troubling aspects of this decision encroach on the feel-good redemption narrative. We practise amongst sexist men all the time, and many of us are uncomfortable with the idea that it's okay to be sexist (okay, reformed sexist) and still practise law. The sexism we run into usually isn't as grossly blatant as being asked by a judge why we didn't just keep our knees together that time we got raped, but it is still rife in the practice. It's subtle, and it's systemic, and it's targeted. It's the exclusion from conversations; the assumptions of inferior ability; the omnipresent "glass ceiling." It's the broader issues like the lack of an in-house daycare in the big firms downtown, and the floundering attempts to attract women to partnership when partnership means the male model thereof (to wit: give up your life for the firm). It's the narrower ones like the occasional dinosaur who, when you walk into the settlement conference, assumes you're "the secretary." Or who - just after you finish discussing with him by phone which undertaking you will accept - says he thinks you've got such a sexy voice, and would you like to have dinner sometime?

The issue before the reinstatement panel was whether the public would have confidence in the profession if Mr. Camp were permitted into practice. Perhaps the public won't notice a sexist lawyer, but we women lawyers sure will. Mr. Camp's lawyer observed that his client's actions revealed "a lack of sensitivity and knowledge," but they "did not evidence a lack of good character or dishonesty or other objectionable conduct." Why are lack of sensitivity and lack of knowledge not okay on the bench, but okay for those who practise law?

It does seem only fair that Mr. Camp, having undergone some personal growth, should have another kick at the can. No doubt we all wish him well in his new endeavours. But we can't help but be a little cynical about it. After all, if he's not reformed, he's going to be just another sexist male lawyer. There's every chance that in our practice of law, Mr. Camp will fit right in.

About the author

Diane Baker Mason is a retired lawyer and novelist.

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