March 11, 2016Filed Under: Antonio's Blog

Judicial Bias

Judicial Bias

Robin Camp has found himself in a spot of trouble. The Albertan judge’s own Court of appeal found that he made inappropriate comments revealing a misunderstanding of Canadian sexual consent law. This happened when Camp was a provincial Court Judge ruling on a criminal trial. The long and short of it is that Justice Camp basically showed judicial bias and blamed the victim.

In a perfect world, all judges are completely objective. A judge’s job is to understand and apply the law using the values and norms inherent in that law, and to keep their decision separate from their own beliefs. But we don’t live in that world. Perfect objectivity doesn’t exist, and everyone brings their own bias to decisions, sometimes unconsciously. The best that we can hope for from judges is that they do their best to set aside all personal biases and strive for objectivity, or recuse themselves if they think they cannot. When you think about it, the difficulty of attaining objectivity shows how elegant a jury trial can be. It’s a group of people with different life experiences and perspectives having to come together and make a cohesive decision.

Shadow of a person walking on a Toronto street at night.
Photo by Thomas Leuthard via CC BY 2.0

Before emigrating to Canada, Justice Camp practiced law in South Africa and Botswana. The implication in the media is that Justice Camp’s attitudes towards women and sexual consent are informed by his African cultural experiences. Is it possible that the cultural values and norms regarding woman and sexual consent are different in South Africa than in Canada? Of course. Is it possible that Justice Camp’s attitudes reflect these differences? Of course. It wouldn’t be the first time our courts have seen a clash of cultures – but usually it’s the other way around where an accused has argued that what he or she did is a cultural practice perfectly acceptable within their community. There are actually rulings in Canadian Criminal cases that a cultural practice is not a defence to a criminal charge.

But it is equally possible that Justice Camp, being a man, may have plainly outdated and old fashioned views. After all, I doubt very much that Justice Camp is unique among men in Canada. Without a doubt there are other such men in Canada who believe and think the same way. We cannot do anything about what people believe in their private lives, but when they are members of the public service, such as judges, then we are entitled to review and regulate.

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