On Thursday night I sat down at my kitchen table and read 86 pages of a court transcript from a sexual assault sentencing hearing that had moved me to write two columns over successive Saturdays.

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This article was published 11/3/2011 (3871 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

On Thursday night I sat down at my kitchen table and read 86 pages of a court transcript from a sexual assault sentencing hearing that had moved me to write two columns over successive Saturdays.

What had originally moved me was outrage over reported comments by Justice Robert Dewar.

That is also what moved members of the public to call for the judge's resignation, protesters to gather outside the Law Courts Building and the Canadian Judicial Council to launch a review of his comments in the case.

But I was overtaken by other emotions when I finished reading the lengthy transcript.

Sadness and shame.

Sadness for Justice Dewar.

And shame for my part in the ferocious attacks he has endured since the sentencing was first reported in the Free Press.

I concluded I had treated Justice Robert Dewar unfairly. I had judged the judge too quickly, and too harshly.

At least I did in the first column, where I used the words "insensitive" and "ignorant" to describe his characterizing the rapist as being like a "clumsy Don Juan." And suggested he needed a refresher course at what the profession self-mockingly calls Dumb Judges School.

I still cringe at the "clumsy Don Juan" comparison, but, in context, I understand where it came from.

And after reading more about the circumstances and everything he said while sentencing a now-40-year-old Thompson city worker named Kenneth Rhodes to what amounts to two years less a day of house arrest, I found Dewar neither ignorant nor insensitive. Quite the opposite.

Some of the phrases he spoke from the bench clearly offered a different impression. And they probably still will for those who haven't read what he said in full, or even others who have and remain outraged, like several of my female Free Press colleagues.

But I'm not the only one who has concluded that the transcript -- which the Free Press ordered, paid for and placed on its website Thursday at city editor Paul Samyn's suggestion ---- puts Justice Dewar, and his remarks, in a much fuller and kinder light.

A 40-year-old reader and self-confessed liberal named Edgar Ozolins emailed me after reading the transcripts. While expressing a different kind of outrage -- the rush to judgment of the judge -- Ozolins offered this appraisal of Justice Dewar: "His questions, care, responses and air of fairness should in fact be a guiding light."

That's how I read it, too. But without knowing the full context of the case and without the judge's references to the variables of sentencing law, the so-called aggravating or mitigating circumstances and precedent case law Justice Dewar quotes to support his decision, it can be difficult to convey what he was saying and why he was saying it.

Which is really the issue here.

Because it wasn't so much the sentence Justice Dewar gave the man he found guilty at trial that provoked the outrage, it was the sentences he spoke.

Or at least the ones that were quoted, in what was a balanced article, but was difficult to read that way because of the legally nuanced and ultimately inflammatory nature of the case.

A case in which the RCMP needed a Crown opinion before a charge was laid. A case with circumstances that started in a party atmosphere, proceeded down the road to the dark woods where the suddenly frightened woman tried to fend off the stranger by holding his hand and kissing him in hopes of getting safely to the highway. And then, when they reached it, was raped in a way that Rhodes seemed to think was consensual sex.

Justice Dewar found otherwise.

But, in law, there are different degrees of sexual assault, even if any case can have an emotional impact that can be life-changing for victims.

As it was in this case.

All of which would have made the sentencing, and explaining it, difficult for any judge.

In that regard, there's one part of the transcript that stands out.

It's at the top of page 70, as Justice Dewar is adjourning to finish formulating his reasons for decision, after listening to both sides and is setting a time to return.

"You'll excuse me if I'm a few minutes late even then," Dewar tells the Crown and defence. "I want to get this as right as I can."

Ultimately, whether he did or didn't will be up to the Canadian Judicial Council to judge, and perhaps the Court of Appeal. In my opinion, he did get it right. It was I who got him wrong.

But read the transcript online.

And judge for yourself.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca