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Case highlights why judges’ training is needed

Quebec’s justice minister will file a complaint against a judge who said a 17-year-old victim of sexual assault had a pretty face and was maybe a “bit flattered” at the interest shown in her.

Le Journal de Montreal reported Wednesday that Quebec court Judge Jean-Paul Braun made the comments earlier this year during the sexual assault trial of taxi driver Carlo Figaro, who was eventually found guilty of attacking her in his cab.

“We can say she is a little overweight, but she has a pretty face, huh?” Braun said at one point.

He went on to say she was possibly even “a little flattered” because “maybe it’s the first time he’s interested in her.”

Braun said the victim was perhaps a bit naive, although she didn’t expect to be groped during the taxi ride.

The trial heard that Figaro licked the girl’s face and grabbed her before she was able to get out of the vehicle.

Braun noted that trying to kiss someone could be seen as an acceptable gesture.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto civil litigator Anna Matas says the judge’s remarks are appalling.

“His comments about the victim’s appearance and feelings are disturbing as they reveal a fundamental disrespect for her as a person and a blindness to the power inherent in his position,” says Matas, an associate based in the Toronto office of Lerners LLP.

“Suggesting that a woman, or any person, may be flattered by non-consensual sexual contact is absurd and betrays a shocking ignorance with respect to the impact of sexual violence on survivors.”

Matas says this case reinforces the need for Bill C-337, known as the Judicial Accountability through Sexual Assault Law Training Bill, which is currently before the Senate.

“This incident highlights — again — the urgent need to implement mandatory training of all judges with respect to the pernicious myths and stereotypes surrounding not only the law of sexual assault but related issues like trauma responses and the impact of sexual violence on survivors,” she says.

“Judges hold extraordinary positions of power and must be held to the highest standards of conduct,” says Matas.

In Quebec City on Wednesday, Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee called the judge’s remarks unacceptable and said she intends to file a complaint.

Braun convicted Figaro, 49, last May of sexual assault and the cabbie will return to court in November for a sentencing hearing.

He is appealing the verdict.

Quebec court Chief Judge Lucie Rondeau said in a statement the court would not comment on Braun’s case.

“Indeed, following the complaint announced by the justice minister, it is up to the Conseil de la magistrature du Quebec (judicial council) to decide whether an ethical fault has been committed,” Rondeau wrote.

But that didn’t stop provincial politicians of all stripes weighing in Wednesday, roundly criticizing the judge’s comments as unacceptable.

Helene David, the minister responsible for the status of women, called on judges to address the issue.

“Do they need more training? Do they need more sensibility? I don’t know — this is their problem,” David told a news conference. “But they have to solve that kind of problem and change the mentality and attitude.”

Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee called Braun’s comments troubling.

“This is very serious,” he said, adding the judge should recuse himself from further cases. “We turn to our judges for wisdom and (upholding) the law, and we have had neither.”

Quebec solidaire member Manon Masse said in a statement the judge’s comments demonstrate that “rape culture is implanted in different spheres of Quebec society and, once again, this is another example of a person in a position of authority making inappropriate remarks toward women.”

She called on the judicial council to settle the matter quickly.

The council must first evaluate whether a complaint will be accepted and, if so, an investigative committee would examine the facts before determining whether there would be any eventual sanction.

A spokeswoman for the council declined comment Wednesday.

At the federal level, a bill proposed by ex-Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose that would mean changes to sex assault law training for federally appointed judges is before the Senate.

In response to complaints about judges’ comments in other jurisdictions, Ontario also made sexual assault training a requirement for provincial judges in May.

This article originally appeared on AdvocateDaily.com

Anna Matas

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