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Blaming the victim?

“Sex was in the air” comment lands judge in hot water

Tannara Yelland
CUP Prairies and Northern Bureau Chief

SASKATOON (CUP) — The Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students has lodged a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council over sexist remarks made by a Manitoba judge in a recent ruling.

Justice Robert Dewar was presiding over the case of Kenneth Rhodes, who was found guilty of sexual assault. Dewar ignored the Crown’s recommendation that Rhodes be sentenced to at least three years in prison and instead gave him a conditional sentence of two years; meaning Rhodes would serve no jail time.

In addition, Dewar commented that the victim had been wearing a tube top and a lot of makeup, and that “sex was in the air” the night of the assault.

Following Dewar’s comments at Rhodes’ Feb. 18 sentencing hearing, the CJC has received a number of complaints and there have been protests in front of Winnipeg’s court building.

The protests highlight a widespread loss of confidence in Dewar’s ability to administer justice appropriately, says CFS-Manitoba’s spokesperson Alanna Makinson.

“From the outcry – the public outcry – it’s very, very clear that Manitobans have lost faith in Judge Dewar’s ability to adequately provide justice to victims of sexual assault and just in general,” she said.

Makinson says her organization lodged its complaint with the CJC because they would like to see Dewar held accountable for his pernicious statements.

“The message is that women are responsible for their own victimization and that perpetrators of sexual assault will not be punished for their actions and, frankly, that they’re not to blame for their actions, is incredibly damaging and irresponsible,” she said.

“The message that rape is about control, domination, and humiliation, and not about sex, should be the one that is coming across.”

The numbers of individuals and groups lodging complaints against Dewar seem to agree. Even the government of Manitoba plans to lodge a complaint once a transcript of the trial is made available.

“Jennifer Howard, who is the minister of labour and the minister responsible for the status of women, is going to file a complaint with the CJC,” said Howard’s spokesperson Rachel Morgan. “The complaint is over the words that were used in the sentencing hearing.”

Unlike CFS-Manitoba, the Manitoba government has not yet decided what outcome it would like to see as a result of its complaint. Morgan said the government would wait “to see what the council decides.”

The council, which has jurisdiction over more than 1,100 judges across Canada, has said it will not comment until after it has ruled on the complaints it receives. According to the CJC’s web site, most complaints are handled within three months.

Until then, Dewar will be allowed to continue hearing cases. However, he will not hear cases of a sexual nature and he will have a reduced caseload.

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