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The province will file a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council over remarks made by a federally appointed judge at a sexual assault sentencing in Thompson last week.

Jennifer Howard, minister responsible for the status of women, said Friday she is concerned the judge's comments will cause future victims to fear they will be blamed for attacks against them.

Noisy protesters gather outside the Law Courts building over the lunch hour Friday to voice disapproval of comments by Justice Robert Dewar.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Noisy protesters gather outside the Law Courts building over the lunch hour Friday to voice disapproval of comments by Justice Robert Dewar.

At a sentencing hearing Feb. 18, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar suggested a 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 Rhodes a conditional sentence -- no jail time -- of two years, rejecting a Crown suggestion of at least three years behind bars.

The judge's remarks unleashed a firestorm of protest on Thursday when they came to light in a Free Press story. Politicians of all stripes joined student and feminist groups and those who work with sexual assault victims in decrying the comments. Many said they feared Dewar's remarks -- which included "sex was in the air" the night the woman was raped -- would deter other victims from coming forward in the future.

"I feel it's important, and we as a government feel it's important, to send a message to women... that they should feel protected by the law..." Howard said in explaining the government's decision to launch the complaint.

By Friday afternoon, the judicial council, which has authority over more than 1,100 federally appointed judges, had already received "several" complaints about Dewar's handling of the case, according to a spokeswoman. She said it is the council's policy not to disclose the names of complainants.

Earlier in the day, more than 100 women and men held a noisy protest outside the downtown Law Courts building. They chanted "yes means yes and no means no," and waved signs sporting an array of messages including, 'Clumsy, ignorant judge,' and 'FYI, Dewar, this is the 21st century.'

Many who attended the demonstration called on the judge to apologize for his remarks and to resign.

Alanna Makinson, head of the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, said Dewar's comments reinforce "repressive and illogical ideas" about women and their sexuality.

"The reality is that violence is committed against women because the perpetrator chooses to commit that violence -- end of story," she said.

Erin Vosters, with the feminist collective FemRev, said she was appalled by the judge's reasoning in giving Rhodes a lenient sentence.

"It makes me feel sick to think that this kind of misogyny is so acceptable that it can be used in, and legitimized by, the courts," she told the crowd.

Vosters said it's absurd to think any person invites a violent attack by dressing in a certain way.

While most of the demonstrators Friday were women, about 20 men also showed up.

One of the speakers at the protest said the judge's comments were equally offensive to men.

"I think you should be as outraged, if not more so, by the portrayal of your sexuality," University of Winnipeg politics professor Shannon Sampert told the men in the crowd. "You know when a woman says 'no' it's not a mixed message. Don't let Dewar say that you have no control over your sexuality. You do."

A spokeswoman for the Manitoba Justice Department said Friday the Crown has ordered a transcript of the Rhodes sentencing and will review whether there are grounds for appeal. It has 30 days to do that.

Anyone can file a complaint against a judge with the Canadian Judicial Council. After investigating a complaint, the council can make recommendations that include removing a judge from office. The council says on its website it handles most complaints within three months.

The council is investigating the conduct of another Manitoba judge, Lori Douglas, who is embroiled in sex-scandal allegations.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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