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Rally today outside Law Courts as citizens, politicians express anger

Rapist's sentence, judge's words ripped

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Students and community activists, outraged by a judge's ruling and remarks in a sex assault case, have organized a protest at noon today in front of the Law Courts building.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar provoked the demonstration -- and criticism from politicians of all stripes on Thursday -- when news broke about his handling of a rape case in northern Manitoba.

Kenneth Rhodes avoided jail time last week in a sex assault involving intercourse when Dewar handed him a two-year conditional sentence. At least as serious, in the minds of many, were the judge's comments during sentencing.

He called Rhodes "a clumsy Don Juan," commented on the victim's attire and said there was "sex in the air" on the night she was seriously sexually assaulted.

Dewar found Rhodes guilty but rejected the Crown's recommendation for a penalty of at least three years in prison.

"I think it was an incredibly irresponsible ruling," said Alanna Makinson, head of the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Federation of Students and one of the protest's organizers. "I feel that the judge was wrong to question what the woman was wearing the night that she was raped. And under no circumstances does a flirt or a short skirt or a kiss ever imply consent to intercourse."

Federal and political politicians and the co-ordinator of a Winnipeg sexual assault crisis program also expressed their dismay Thursday. Several said they were fearful the judge's attitude may prevent more women from reporting sexual assaults. It's estimated less than 10 per cent all sex assaults are reported to police.

"We encourage people to come forward and a decision of this sort can set that back," said Winnipeg Liberal MP Anita Neville.

"I think this sends out a horrible message to victims," said Charleswood MLA Myrna Driedger, Conservative critic for the status of women.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Andrew Swan said an appeal in the case is being considered. "The Crown asked for a serious jail sentence in this case and will review the transcript to determine if there are grounds to appeal the sentence," she said in an email.

Dewar, a federal Conservative appointment, has sat on the bench for just 17 months.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Judicial Council, which investigates complaints against judges, would not say late Thursday if one had been filed against Dewar.

"It's not council's policy to disclose complaints that we have before us unless the person who makes the complaint publicly announces it," said Johanna Laporte, the CJC's director of communications. However, observers said they wouldn't be surprised if one were to be filed in the coming days.

Lorraine Parrington, who co-ordinates the sexual assault crisis program at Klinic, said she is "appalled" at some of the judge's remarks.

She said they perpetuate the myth about sexual assault that the victim is responsible for her own victimization.

Women who have had the courage to report being sexually assaulted will be angered by the judge's comments, while those who have never told anyone will grow even more fearful and mistrustful of the system, Parrington said.

"That (wa)s clearly an act of violence," she said, referring to the forced sexual intercourse -- not the actions of a "clumsy Don Juan."

Sexual assault victims often report shame and self-blame, as well as the feeling of having been violated, Parrington said. And the judge's ruling and remarks are likely to deter some from coming forward in the future, she said.

Meanwhile, today's protest at the Law Courts is expected to involve several community organizations, including the Women's Health Clinic and campus women's centres, as well as student groups.

-- with files from Mia Rabson

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

'He's a nice guy. He's a perfectly decent kind of guy but he reflects a certain kind of belief from a certain kind of generation'

-- a source, who asked not to be named, referring Thursday to Justice Dewar

'Really, it feels almost like the accused is being viewed as a victim here as opposed to the victim'

-- Lorraine Parrington of Klinic

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2011 A4

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