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Canadian Judicial Council completes its review of complaints made against justice Robert Dewar

Ottawa, 9 November 2011 - The Canadian Judicial Council announced today the results of its review of complaints made against the Honourable Robert Dewar of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench. The complaints focused on comments made by Justice Dewar after finding Mr Rhodes guilty of sexual assault and in the context of sentencing in the case of The Queen v. Rhodes.

The complaints against Justice Dewar were reviewed by the Honourable Neil C. Wittmann, Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta and Vice-Chairperson of the Judicial Conduct Committee of Council.

This review showed that Justice Dewar's comments were perceived by many individuals as being insensitive to victims of sexual assault. They were also seen as reflecting negative and outdated gender stereotypes, as casting blame on the victim and showing an unacceptable gender bias against women. Some complaints also raised dissatisfaction with the sentence imposed by the judge.

Justice Dewar provided comments about the complaints received by the Council. He agreed that his poor choice of words negatively affected women who are victims of sexual assault. He acknowledged that his use of stereotypical language was totally inappropriate and expressed his regret. Justice Dewar wishes to "express my unequivocal apology to (the victim) for the hurt she must have experienced from my comments. Some of the letters of complaint, from persons who have worked directly with past victims, have pointed out that some of my comments were also traumatic for them. I very much regret that as well".

In his desire to approach social justice issues with greater sensitivity in the future, Justice Dewar met with an expert on gender equality. He is pursuing further professional development in this area as part of his commitment to become a better judge.

Justice Wittmann accepts that Justice Dewar has learned greatly from these events. However, he is of the view that Justice Dewar's remarks showed a clear lack of sensitivity towards victims of sexual assault. Chief Justice Wittmann formally expressed his concerns to Justice Dewar, noting that his conduct fell short of the high standard Canadians expect of all judges.

In commenting on those complaints that were made regarding Justice Dewar's decision on sentencing, Chief Justice Wittmann notes that the proper recourse to express disagreement with a judge's decision is by means of appeal. In this case, it is noted that the matter is currently before the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

When finding shortcomings in a judge's conduct, Council must ultimately determine whether the matter is so serious that it could warrant the judge's removal from office.

In this case, Chief Justice Wittmann considered Justice Dewar's full apology to both the victim and all those offended by his words. He also took note of the active steps taken by the judge to improve his understanding of gender equality issues and his commitment to continue those efforts, with the support of his Chief Justice. In context, and given that this is an isolated event in the judge's career, Chief Justice Wittmann decided, after formally expressing his concern to the judge about his conduct, that no further action was necessary by the Council.

A copy of the Council's letter to the complainants is attached. Information about the Council, including its Complaints Procedures, can be found on the Council's website at www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca.

Contact:
Norman Sabourin
Executive Director and Senior General Counsel
(613) 288-1566 ext 301


Background Information:

9 November 2011

Dear Complainant:

I am writing in regard to your complaint against the Honourable R. A. Dewar of the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba. In accordance with the Complaints Procedures of Council, your complaint, together with a number of other similar complaints made against Justice Dewar, were referred to the Honourable Neil Wittmann, Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta and Vice-Chairperson of the Judicial Conduct Committee of Council.

All of the complaints received reflect a common theme directed at the judge's comments during his decision and sentencing in the matter of R. v Rhodes. Because the complaints are all related in nature, Chief Justice Wittmann has decided to address at the same time all of the allegations put forward in the various complaints, including your own.

The complaints all arise from certain remarks made by the judge during the Rhodes matter. In finding Mr Rhodes guilty of sexual assault and in the subsequent sentencing portion of the trial, the judge said that "sex was in the air that night;" that the accused was "a clumsy Don Juan." He said that the victim was dressed in a way that showed she "wanted to party."

These comments were seen as perpetuating negative myths and suggesting that the behaviour of the victim would have contributed to the sexual assault or even that the victims of sexual assault have only themselves to blame. A general complaint was that the judge showed insensitivity rooted in outdated gender stereotypes and that this reflected poorly on his impartiality. Some complainants said that the sentence imposed by the judge was too lenient, and that this was because of gender bias.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, Chief Justice Wittmann asked Justice Dewar and his Chief Justice to provide comments. He also obtained the relevant transcripts of the proceedings. Chief Justice Wittmann has now completed his review of this matter and he has asked me to provide you with the following.

The judge's decisions in R. v. Rhodes

At the heart of judicial independence is a judge's freedom to administer justice to the best of his or her ability, without fear or favour, in accordance with the evidence presented and the law. In case of a disagreement with a judge's decisions about the evidence or the sentence in a criminal matter, the matter must be raised by way of appeal. In this case, Chief Justice Wittmann notes that both the convicted person and the Crown have appealed the decision of the judge. This is the proper recourse. Because Council has no authority to review or reverse any Court decision, it would not be appropriate for Chief Justice Wittmann to comment on the merits of Justice Dewar's decisions, including the sentence imposed in this case or any of the issues of law that may be raised on appeal, including any allegations of bias.

Remarks made by the judge

Justice Dewar recognizes that many of his remarks in the Rhodes matter were not appropriate. He is also aware that he did not fully appreciate the negative treatment that victims of sexual assault can receive. He truly regrets this.

In particular, Justice Dewar said that in commenting on the state of mind of Mr Rhodes, whom he found guilty of sexual assault, he clearly was not sensitive to the effects on the victim. He explained that he now realizes how hurtful his use of stereotypes was to the victim. Justice Dewar has offered a full and unequivocal apology to the victim for the hurt she experienced from his comments. He also is aware that his comments may have been traumatic to other women who were victims of sexual assault and expressed his sincere regret for this.

Since these events took place, Justice Dewar has met a recognized expert on gender equality. She has provided him with insight and practical advice, referred him to useful materials about these issues, and is making herself available in the future. Justice Dewar is convinced that he can be a better judge, through serious, ongoing efforts at professional development. He is determined that this will remain a single, isolated incident.

After reviewing all the facts, Chief Justice Wittmann agrees that Justice Dewar did show a lack of appreciation and sensitivity toward victims of sexual assault when he made remarks that can perpetuate negative stereotypes about women. He is of the view that such conduct fell short of the standard Canadians expect of their judges. For these reasons, Chief Justice Wittmann formally expressed his concerns to Justice Dewar.

Chief Justice Wittmann notes that all judges have a duty to ensure everyone before the courts is treated with equality, according to law. As stated in Ethical Principles for Judges, in the commentary relating to Equality, "Judges should not be influenced by attitudes based on stereotype, myth or prejudice. They should, therefore, make every effort to recognize, demonstrate sensitivity to and correct such attitudes."

In reviewing the entire matter, Chief Justice Wittmann is of the view that Justice Dewar has learned from this experience and that he now fully appreciates the negative effect of his comments. Chief Justice Wittmann accepts that Justice Dewar will be making "every effort" to uphold the standards of conduct expected of all judges.

When finding shortcomings in a judge's conduct, Council must ultimately determine whether the matter is so serious that it could warrant the judge's removal from office.

For all of the above reasons, and given that this represents an isolated incident in the judge's career, Chief Justice Wittmann is confident that Justice Dewar can continue to fulfill his judicial duties in the future and that no further action is required by the Council.

Yours sincerely,

Norman Sabourin
Executive Director and Senior General Counsel