Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The real Justice Dewar, from those who know him

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There's something I didn't share with you in last week's column about Justice Robert Dewar.

I went to high school and grew up in the same St. James neighbourhood as Rob Dewar, as he was known.

We may have grown up close in proximity, but we weren't close.

I was a tall, skinny jock.

He was a tall, skinny "brain."

My dad was a journalist, his dad was a judge.

And look what eventually happened.

But what happened with Dewar more recently -- which has been all over the national news -- was less predictable for those who know him well, or even for me. I only knew him well enough to say "congratulations" when I bumped into him on the Trizec building stairs shortly after he was appointed to the bench a year-and-a-half ago.

A couple of people who know Dewar much better, though -- as a person and a legal mind -- called me Friday.

Dave Hill and Bob Sokalski are law partners and Rob Dewar's friends. They phoned me because of the caricature they've seen Dewar turned into since the Free Press broke the story of the conditional sentence he gave a Thompson man for raping a 20-year-old woman and the even more inflammatory reasons he gave.

And they called because judges can't speak for themselves, so they wanted to speak for him. Not to defend what he said in that Thompson courtroom two weeks ago, but to try to provide some insight and perspective on the person they've known and worked with for decades.

Dewar's undoubtedly unintentional, but nonetheless stunningly injudicious, blaming of the victim in the sexual assault case has left an impression about him that doesn't match the man they know and phoned after the story hit the headlines last week.

So who is the real Rob Dewar?

When Sokalski worked with him at Pitblado, he saw Dewar as the "barometer" of fairness at the firm.

In complicated cases, other lawyers went to him for counsel on "what's right, what's ethical, what's decent."

Hill described him as "quiet" and "sensitive... a straight shooter. Very kind. Very loath to criticize. He took things really to heart."

Hill remembered times when, as a lawyer, Dewar would wake up in the middle of the night because he was concerned about a case.

Like Sokolski, Hill saw Dewar as extremely thoughtful.

"Certainly not chauvinistic."

Hill said Dewar was always understanding of and sided with female lawyers in the firm who wanted to balance practising law with having a family.

But of all the characterizing of Rob Dewar, none is as perplexing and paradoxical as the one Dave Hill shared about his old law partner.

"He always chose his words carefully, whether he wrote them or said them."

So how could such a respected, careful, considerate and thoughtful lawyer end up looking like the antithesis of all of the above as a judge?

Well, maybe he was out of his element -- he had practised criminal law before being appointed to the bench. But I was surprised to learn from Hill Dewar wasn't inexperienced in cases involving sexual assault.

He handled two civil court matters involving sexual assault; in one case representing the United Church when it was facing civil responsibility for the sexual misconduct of its clergy in church-run residential schools. But there's this caveat.

He didn't act for the victims.

In the end, though, what I was most interested in knowing about Rob Dewar was how he was doing.

"I don't know the answer to that," Hill said, in a serious and concerned tone. "He's a very sensitive guy."

Sokalski said he couldn't say, either.

"I can only imagine," Sokalski said.

I can only imagine, too.

Being isolated, publicly pilloried and left voiceless; a career spent earning a reputation for being the go-to guy for doing the right thing.

And now this.

Even if he could rephrase what he was trying to say, it's way too late.

Even if he wanted to publicly apologize, he can't do that either.

He's in legal and personal limbo.

The judge who's now being judged.

Hopefully, thanks to his friends, he'll be judged with a little more of what good judges try to grant.

Compassion.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2011 B1

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