A judge's words about a sexual assault victim launched international outrage, sparked a federal judicial review, and led to his being turfed from presiding over sexual assault cases.

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A judge's words about a sexual assault victim launched international outrage, sparked a federal judicial review, and led to his being turfed from presiding over sexual assault cases.

But that response is not enough, advocates said on Tuesday night. Not enough, not yet.

Justice Robert Dewar: under fire


Justice Robert Dewar: under fire

In the wake of a Friday rally that drew around 150 people to the Law Courts demanding the resignation of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar, about 40 people came together at the University of Winnipeg on Tuesday night.

Their mission: to plan the next steps in a response to Dewar's comments, at a Feb. 18 sentencing in Thompson for convicted rapist Kenneth Rhodes, that "sex was in the air" when the victim wore a tube top, makeup and high heels to the bar on the night she was attacked.

Since the comments became public last week, response from government and the judiciary came fast and furious. The Crown is considering appealing the sentence; it has 30 days to do so. The province announced it would file a formal complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council, which has launched an official investigation into Dewar's comments.

In Parliament on Tuesday, opposition leaders called on government to ensure judges receive better training. "They need some awareness of violence against women," said Liberal Status of Women critic and Winnipeg South Centre MP Anita Neville.

"Is (Dewar's ruling) consistent with the government's message about violence against women?"

And on Tuesday, Manitoba Chief Justice Glenn Joyal issued a written statement saying Dewar will continue sitting on the bench but with a limited caseload, which will not include cases relating to sex crimes.

Joyal did not speak directly to the comments. "While the court recognizes this matter to be of obvious public concern, any public comment by the judiciary would, at this point, be inappropriate for two basic but important reasons," Joyal said.

"First, an appeal of the sentence...is currently being contemplated by the Crown. Second, the Canadian Judicial Council has now received and will be reviewing complaints made in respect of Justice Dewar's comments."

For advocates at Tuesday night's meeting, those words were not enough. Attendees came from all backgrounds: university students, high school students, labour leaders, parents, social workers, and even a politician, Kirkfield Park MLA Sharon Blady, who holds a PhD in women's studies and once taught about many of the same issues raised by Dewar's comments.

But when it came time to ponder the next action in a long-term response to those comments, attendees spoke in one voice. "Do we still want him to resign?" discussion leader Liz Carlyle asked the crowd.

"Yes," the 40 voices replied, in unison.

How will that demand take shape? Attendees proposed a pile of potential actions. There may be letter-writing campaigns to judicial leaders; there may be regular rallies until Dewar resigns. On the long-term end, advocates proposed launching education campaigns; providing advocates and support to court proceedings; and calling for an overhaul of the justice system that would see judges streamed into cases according to their expertise.

Dewar had primarily a civil law background when he was appointed to the bench in 2009.

For now, leaders agreed to tie an organized response to Dewar's comments into activities for International Women's Day on March 8, including participating in a downtown march that will begin at 4:30 p.m.

It's a start, some said. "I have a son who wanted to come tonight. He's nine years old, and he understands what consent means," said Karyn Delichte, 36, a University of Manitoba student who came to the meeting ready to brainstorm.


Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.