CALGARY — A sexual assault case that prompted a judicial hearing over the controversial comments of a Calgary judge is to be back in court today for a retrial.
Alexander Scott Wagar was acquitted of sexual assault in 2014 by Justice Robin Camp, who decided the man’s version of events was more credible.
Court transcripts show Camp questioned the 19-year-old female complainant’s morals, suggested her attempts to fight off her attacker were feeble and described her as “the accused” throughout the trial.
He asked her: “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” and said “pain and sex sometimes go together.”
The verdict was overturned on appeal and a new trial was ordered. It is being heard before a judge alone.
A women’s advocacy group says many will be watching the trial closely.
“I think there will be heightened scrutiny of this case,” said Kim Stanton, legal director of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund.
“That’s understandable given the extraordinary attention that the Robin Camp inquiry generated and also, in general, because of the situation over the last year in Canada, more with respect to sexual assault allegations in fairly high-profile cases. There’s more interest now and that’s a good thing.”
Stanton said the new trial shows the system is working — the Alberta Court of Appeal caught the errors of the trial judge and sent the case back for a retrial.
But there are probably other similar cases across Canada, which are probably behind declining reporting rates by survivors of sexual assault, she said.
“There are many judges who are conscious of the law — and of the myths and stereotypes that shouldn’t form a part of it — and do conduct their trials in a fair manner for both the accused and the survivor,” Stanton said.
“But there are also ongoing problems across the country and that’s indicative of a larger societal problem.”
A Canadian Judicial Council panel held a hearing over Camp’s conduct in Calgary in September. It has not yet issued a recommendation on whether he should remain on the bench.
The hearing heard from the original complainant in the 2014 case. She told the panel Camp’s comments hurt her and made her suicidal.
“He made me hate myself and he made me feel like I should have done something … that I was some kind of slut,” she said.
Stanton expects it will be hard for the young woman to return for a second trial.
“It would be terribly difficult given her horrendous experience in the first trial. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for her to go back into court a second time.”