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Protesters highlight rape issue

Demand politicians address Manitoba judge's sentencing comments

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Critics of a judge's handling of a rape case in Thompson six weeks ago say his controversial comments during sentencing and the ensuing fallout should be a federal election issue.

"Ending rape is an election issue," said one of the signs carried by protesters outside the downtown Law Courts building Friday.

It was the second time protesters paraded there over Justice Robert Dewar's comments suggesting a rape 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 the man a conditional sentence of two years -- meaning no jail time -- rejecting a Crown suggestion of at least three years behind bars.

That prompted a rally last month outside the Winnipeg courthouse.

On Friday, another rally was held to express outrage at Dewar's remarks and to call out federal candidates on where they stand on women's rights, organizers said.

"The rally is about Dewar still not being held responsible for his comments," said Liz Carlyle with the Canadian Federation of Students. She said members of the student-funded organization are pressing the issue because women's groups have lost their government funding to organize and advocate for women's rights.

The National Action Committee on the Status of Women used to be a powerful voice until it was gutted after years of successive governments hacking away at its funding, Carlyle said.

Without the feminist watchdog organization speaking out for women, men and members of the justice system seem to get away with blaming the victims of sexual assaults, she said.

"Why do so many men have complete ignorance that consent is required?"

The outrage isn't just in Winnipeg. In Toronto on Sunday, protesters are holding a "SlutWalk" after a police officer at a safety forum said women shouldn't dress like "sluts" if they don't want to be victimized.

In Winnipeg Friday, students who belong to a Facebook group held the rally outside the Law Courts because it's election time and the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

They want election candidates to speak out against the judge's comments and support funding for programs that help sexual assault victims and monitor the courts, said Carlyle.

Meanwhile, the man whose conditional sentence for the rape conviction filed an appeal asking the province's highest court to overturn his sexual assault verdict.

He claims the guilty finding by Dewar "was unreasonable and unsupported by the evidence."

"The judge erred in law in misapplying the test for honest but mistaken belief in consent," the appeal said.

The Canadian Judicial Council is investigating Dewar's handling of the case. In the meantime, Dewar has agreed not to preside over cases of a sexual nature.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 2, 2011 A13

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