Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Women's group denied status in 'Don Juan' case

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A national legal group will not have a say in a case it argues highlights the "deeply entrenched" problem of victim-blaming in the courts.

On Thursday, a Manitoba appeals judge ruled the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund could not intervene in the appeal of Kenneth Rhodes, a Thompson resident convicted of rape but infamously dubbed a "clumsy Don Juan" by trial judge Justice Robert Dewar.

In his decision, Justice Michel Monnin wrote that allowing LEAF to speak on the issue of victim-blaming in the courts and challenge statements Dewar made would "not speak to the matter at issue on the appeal itself, and raise the danger of an injustice occurring as a result."

Litigation director Joanna Birenbaum said LEAF was "disappointed" by Monnin's decision.

"LEAF's leave motion... served an important public function by generating continued awareness of the discriminatory beliefs to which sexual assault complainants are still subjected," she said.

While Monnin acknowledged the issues LEAF sought to raise were "meaningful and appropriate in the general context of sexual assault law," he ruled the group's arguments "will not assist the court in addressing the fundamental issue raised by this appeal," which is whether there should be a new trial.

The Free Press in January reported a series of comments Dewar made during sentencing that focused on the victim's clothing and socializing, as the judge noted "sex was in the air" on the night of the attack.

LEAF, which often intervenes in Canadian cases involving the rights of women and girls, wanted to step in after learning the Crown would not fight to uphold Rhodes' conviction. Both the Crown and Rhodes' lawyers wish to see a new trial.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Judicial Council slammed Dewar's remarks, calling them "inappropriate," insensitive and words that "should never be repeated."

The CJC didn't formally discipline Dewar, saying he has taken steps to improve his awareness of victim-blaming and is "determined that this will remain a single, isolated incident." Dewar apologized to the victim and has worked with a gender-equality consultant.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2011 A18

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