Judge’s ruling on sex-assault case sparks angry opposition

Last Friday, an estimated 200 protestors gathered in front of the Manitoba Law Courts building to rally against Justice Robert Dewar’s recent ruling in a rape case sentencing, in which he rejected a Crown recommendation of jail time in favour of a conditional sentence. In his ruling, Dewar claimed that the victim’s attire and behavior made her partially responsible for the attack.

“Students and the community are disgusted with the words and actions of Judge Dewar,” said Alanna Makinson, Manitoba chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students and one of the organizers of the rally.

“We are hoping that he will take responsibility for his actions, his failure to understand that there is no such thing as implied consent, and the negative repercussion this ruling will have on women in Manitoba, across the country and future cases of sexual assault,” she said.

Makinson believes that the statements made by Judge Dewar reinforce the myth that a victim of sexual assault is ultimately responsible for their own victimization.
“The reality is that violence is committed against a woman because the perpetrator chose to commit that violence. End of story,” she said.

Protestors chanted “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no” and demanded an apology from Dewar, while some insisted on his immediate resignation.

“This ruling obviously is misogynistic and arcane, but it unfortunately it reflects broader societal attitudes that still exist and I think that’s another important reason why we’ve all come out,” said Justine De Jaegher, a third-year economic and political science student at the University of Manitoba.

Many of the protesters believed that the ruling will lead to fewer women coming forward as victims of rape.

“He said it wasn’t trying to set a precedent, but there’s no way around it — and that’s an extremely dangerous precedent to set,” said Ayla Slessor, a fifth-year political science student at the U of M.

Womyn’s Centre coordinator at the U of M, Jennifer Portillo, believes that Dewar is sending a harmful message to both women and men.

“By ordering the perpetrator to write a letter of apology to the victim states that the judge recognized something wrong was done, but it does not excuse the fact that these messages of victim blaming will only continue to hurt everybody by telling men it is in their nature to rape,” said Portillo.

According to Portillo, women should never be blamed for any sexual assault or rape against them.

“It does not matter what she is dressed like, what she acts like, or what vibe she is giving off. If she does not consent then it is rape; if she does not say yes then it is rape,” she said.

The justice system provides a procedure through the Canadian Judicial Council for all complaints against a federally appointed judge. According to the council, they have already received many complaints against Dewar.

“The Crown has asked for a transcript of the proceeding. The Crown has up to thirty days from the decision to determine whether there are legal grounds for appeal,” a spokesperson for Manitoba Justice told the Manitoban. 

Jennifer Howard, minster of labor and immigration, put forward a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council on behalf of the Government of Manitoba.

Howard explained that the government feels that the underlying attitude, that something a woman does or says can be used to make her to blame for sexual assault, is damaging.

“It damages women’s confidence in the justice system and it could damage women’s ability to come forward when they are assaulted, so that’s why I think it’s important for us to put forward a complaint,” said Howard.

Minister Howard noted that the comments she has received personally and those in the media are also largely in agreement.

“As elected representatives we want to make sure that people believe that they will be protected by the courts, especially those who have been victims of sexual assault,” she continued. “I don’t want anything to take away from that message because we know that sexual assaults are already a very underreported crime.”