Complaint filed after comments by B.C. judge hearing sexual assault trial

Complaint against B.C. judge in sexual assault trial

VANCOUVER — Comments attributed to a British Columbia judge about the number of days that should be allotted to hear a sexual assault case have led to a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council, the province’s attorney general said Thursday.

Charges in the case were stayed by the Crown on Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton did not say who filed the complaint against Justice Peter Leask.

“I understand that the comments, ill-considered as they appear to be, did not impact on the outcome of this case,” Anton said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

A transcript of the court proceedings was not publicly available Thursday because of a publication ban in the case.

But Kamloops This Week quotes Leask as saying he needed to return to work in Vancouver.

“Full disclosure: I live in Vancouver,” the newspaper quoted Leask as telling the court on Monday. “Kamloops is a wonderful place, but I like sleeping in my own bed.”

Benjamin Perrin, an associate law professor at the University of British Columbia, said he filed a complaint with the judicial council, saying Leask’s alleged conduct undermines public confidence in the administration of justice over behaviour that amounts to systemic bias.

“The statement attributed to Justice Leask is at best a bad joke and at worst an indication that he was not taking his job as a judge seriously,” he said in a 14-page document filed with the judicial council on Thursday.

“I was shocked and felt an obligation to file this complaint,” Perrin said in an interview.

“These comments simply cannot be allowed to stand,” he said, noting there’s is a large problem with unreported sexual assaults in Canada.

Perrin cited other examples of “insensitivity” toward sexual assault victims by police and former Federal Court judge Robin Camp, who asked a sexual assault complainant in 2014 when he was an Alberta provincial court judge why the woman couldn’t keep her knees together.

Camp resigned from his Federal Court position earlier this month after a removal hearing by the Canadian Judicial Council.

The Canadian Judicial Council is a federal body that reviews complaints or allegations against superior court judges. It is chaired by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and consists of 38 other council members who are chief justices and associate chief justices of the country’s superior courts.

Anton said the complaint launched against Leask meets the criteria for the council to review the matter.

“I am not going to put myself ahead of any review,” she said in the statement. “As a process has been initiated, I will leave it to the council to review the complaint and have no further comment.”

The complainant, who alleged her stepfather sexually assaulted her for six years in the mid-1970s, told Kamloops This Week she was “disgusted” to learn Leask asked the Crown and defence lawyers to shorten the scheduled two-week trial to one week because of a shortage of judges.

Crown attorney Katie Bouchard was not available Thursday, but a spokesman for the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch said the Crown’s decision was not influenced by any comments made by the court in the course scheduling discussions by the judge.

“The decision to stay the charges in this case was made after a full and careful review of the evidence,” Dan McLaughlin said in a statement. “After reviewing this information the prosecutor concluded the charge assessment standard was no longer met. In these circumstances a stay of proceedings is the appropriate course of action.”

McLaughlin said he did not know in which context Leask made the comments.

“But I think it’s important to understand the comments, to put them in the proper context.”

Bruce Cohen, a former judge who serves as spokesman for the B.C. Supreme Court, said he did not have a response to an inquiry for comment.

Charlene Eden, a spokeswoman for the Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre, said the agency was also considering filing a complaint against Leask.

“As an agency we don’t make decisions lightly on anything we do so we’re going to take the time to look at all the facts and all the pieces and then we’ll make a decision.”

Eden said she was not in the courtroom when Leask made the comments but heard about them from various sources.

She said Leask’s request to cut the scheduled trial time in half suggests due process could not be possible, adding all cases require adequate time for the Crown to present evidence and testimony from all of its witnesses.

“In cases involving sexual assault, when the conviction rate is as low as it is, that’s a concern for me,” she said. “The reality is that it is difficult to make the case, especially with historic sexual abuse.”

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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