Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Judge at heart of firestorm pulled off trial

Dewar replaced just as jurors prepare to hear manslaughter case

  • Print

A Manitoba judge under federal review for comments he made about a rape victim has been removed from a manslaughter jury trial just as it's set to begin.

Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar was to preside over the case beginning Monday. Sources told the Free Press a last-minute decision was made this week to have Justice Doug Abra take over the proceedings.

Provincial officials have offered no explanation for the move, which comes days after Chief Justice Glenn Joyal issued a written statement saying Dewar will not hear any cases "of a sexual nature" pending the ongoing investigation.

"This is really unusual, to have a judge switched after jury selection and so close to the start of the trial," a source told the Free Press. In fact, jurors selected to hear the case had already been instructed Dewar was presiding to avoid any potential conflicts in case they knew him. Now the same process will likely have to be repeated with Abra.

Sources speculated there may be concern by justice officials about the volume of publicity currently surrounding Dewar and a decision was made to go with a lower-profile judge in a homicide case where 12 citizens will decide the fate of the accused.

The case against Matt Wegier involves the November 2007 stabbing death of 24-year-old Jeff Engen inside the Empire Cabaret on Main Street.

A judicial spokesman told the Free Press Joyal's notice from earlier this week is accurate and Dewar will continue hearing cases of a non-sexual nature. No further information about the reasons for moving him off the Wegier case was provided.

"There are a number of reasons why a case may be reassigned at any given stage," said the spokesman. Although that's true, sources say it usually only applies in cases where a sudden health issue comes up. That's apparently not the case with Dewar, who has been in courtrooms all this week, including Thursday.

Last week, the province announced it is filing a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council over remarks made by Dewar at a sexual assault sentencing in Thompson. Jennifer Howard, minister responsible for the status of women, said she is concerned the judge's comments will cause future victims to fear they will be blamed for attacks against them.

At a sentencing hearing Feb. 18, Dewar suggested a victim's attire and flirtatious behaviour were partly to blame for the attack, which involved forced intercourse. The judge called the attacker, Kenneth Rhodes, a "clumsy Don Juan" and noted the victim wore a tube top, high heels and plenty of makeup. He gave Rhodes a conditional sentence SEmD no jail time -- of two years, rejecting a Crown suggestion of at least three years behind bars.

The judge's remarks unleashed a firestorm of protest last week when they came to light in a Free Press story. Politicians of all stripes joined student and feminist groups and those who work with sexual assault victims in decrying the comments. Many said they feared Dewar's remarks would deter other victims from coming forward in the future.

By Friday afternoon, the judicial council, which has authority over more than 1,100 federally appointed judges, had already received "several" complaints about Dewar's handling of the case, according to a spokeswoman.

Earlier in the day, more than 100 women and men held a noisy protest outside the downtown Law Courts building. They chanted "yes means yes and no means no," and waved signs sporting an array of messages including, "Clumsy, ignorant judge," and 'FYI, Dewar, this is the 21st century." Many who attended the demonstration called on the judge to apologize for his remarks and to resign.

A spokeswoman for the Manitoba Justice Department said the Crown has ordered a transcript of the Rhodes sentencing and will review whether there are grounds for appeal. It has 30 days to do that.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2011 A4

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Mike O'Shea on win over Alouettes August 22

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose comes in for a landing Thursday morning through heavy fog on near Hyw 59 just north of Winnipeg - Day 17 Of Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge - May 24, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060711 Chris Pedersen breeds Monarch butterflies in his back yard in East Selkirk watching as it transforms from the Larva or caterpillar through the Chrysalis stage to an adult Monarch. Here an adult Monarch within an hour of it emerging from the Chrysalis which can be seen underneath it.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What do you think of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comment that Tina Fontaine’s slaying was a crime, and not part of a larger sociological problem?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google