The Judge Robin Camp Edition
Business ethics suffers by comparison with judicial ethics. Judicial ethics has actual legally enforceable rules. Business ethics floats in a sea of belief systems where morality may or may not exist and the laws are often ignored.
That doesn’t mean that judges don’t make ethical mistakes. It just means that we have a much better idea of when a violation takes place and the significance of that violation.
Should we incorporate a code of business ethics into the law? The “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” are in a way a standard of business ethics applicable from the law but the interpretation and application of this standard vary widely in how binding these standards are.
Today, we deal with an alleged ethics violation by a Judge Robin Cook and it is from the Canadian judiciary rather than the American. Nevertheless, it is very relevant because the mistakes he made has been heard in American courts as well.
In June 2014, Camp took on the second sexual assault trial of his career, that of Alexander Scott Wagar, a homeless man accused of sexually assaulting a homeless 19-year-old Cree woman at a party, atop a washroom sink. When interrogating the complainant, Camp asked, “Why didn’t you just keep your knees together?” and “Why didn’t you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn’t penetrate you?” Elsewhere in the trial, he remarked that “sex and pain sometimes go together… not necessarily a bad thing.” He appeared to question Canada’s rape laws, and he urged the accused male to tell his friends they have to be “more gentle” and patient with women, to “protect themselves.”
After Camp acquitted Wagar, the Alberta Court of Appeal last fall ordered a retrial, writing that the judge’s decision suggests he misunderstood aspects of sexual assault law and bought into discredited sexual stereotypes and myths. He’s not the first judge to provoke outrage once his conduct was revealed. But in the world of judicial tenure and near-untouchability, he’s the first federally appointed judge whose mishandling of a sexual assault trial has placed his job on the line.
Amid Camp’s time-out from Federal Court hearings, he received personal mentoring and counselling from a leading judge, a feminist law professor and a psychologist expert in gender biases and the judiciary. All three women testified Camp earnestly strived to root out his unconscious biases and become self-vigilant. “I wish every judge could have an education as good as that, and I wish they could make it before they make a mistake like the one that Justice Camp made,” says Emma Cunliffe, a University of British Columbia law professor.
Whether or not he will be removed has not yet been decided but this is an important development. The fact that he is in danger of removal for remarks that would not have been considered out of the ordinary a generation ago is significant. Change in our views of rape as a crime have been happening with some rapidity over the past twenty years and I think for the better. In my mind, rape is a criminal violation not something women invite.
I’ve written many times that business ethics are a sub-set of a society’s larger ethics and if I am right in this, an improvement in our understanding of crime and women’s rights are both changes in the larger ethics environment that will have visible reflections in business ethics in time.
Change is not always positive. Nor can it be guaranteed that changes will remain in place. The struggle for morality and ethics is constant and never-ending. There are no permanent victories.
This is a small step in the right direction.