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Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown steps down, halting probe into misconduct claim

Russell Brown announced Monday he's stepping down as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada effective immediately — a move that comes after the Canadian Judicial Council began probing a claim of misconduct directed against Brown related to an incident in the U.S.

Canadian Judicial Council began looking into misconduct claim linked to incident in U.S.

A photograph of Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown

Russell Brown announced Monday he's stepping down as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada effective immediately — a move that comes after the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) began probing a claim of misconduct directed against Brown related to an incident in the U.S.

Brown's decision to step down from Canada's top court means the CJC's investigation of an alleged alcohol-fuelled incident in Arizona will come to an end without any sort of public report on the matter.

Under the federal Judges Act, the council has a duty to investigate complaints made against federally appointed judges. Now that Brown has stepped down, the council said, that work will stop.

Brown has been on leave for months since reports surfaced that the judge got into some sort of confrontation with patrons at a high-end Scottsdale-area resort at the end of January.

While accounts of the incident differ, it has been established that there was some sort of fight between Brown and a man at the resort, Jon Crump, a U.S. Marine veteran who was at the resort with a group of friends.

Crump alleges a drunken Brown was belligerent and harassed his drinking companions. He said Brown followed him and some in his group back to their hotel rooms. After a brief skirmish, Crump said he punched Brown after he wouldn't leave. Then, Crump reported the Stephen Harper-appointed judge to the CJC.

Brown has said Crump's version of events is false and instead claims the former Marine inexplicably punched him in the head.

Conflicting versions of events

In a statement, Brown said the CJC probe into the Arizona incident "may continue well into 2024," a delay he said is in "nobody's interests — the Court's, the public's, my family's or my own."

"I have therefore decided that the common good is best served by my retirement, so that a replacement judge can join the court in time for its busy fall term," Brown said.

Brown said he had hoped the CJC review would be "dispensed with quickly and would not significantly impact the court's business."

"Sadly, that has not been the case," the former top judge said.

Brown's lawyers, Brian Gover and Alexandra Heine, also released a statement calling his resignation a "regrettable result" prompted by a "spurious complaint."

Brown's lawyers said Crump "weaponized Canada's judicial discipline process" to punish the judge.

According to a Paradise Valley Police Department report on the matter obtained by CBC News, Crump called law enforcement to report the altercation in the early morning hours of January 29.

He told Adam Balcom, the officer dispatched to the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa, that Brown was "hitting on" and "touching" some of Crump's female companions.

As they started to walk back to their hotel rooms, Crump said Brown followed them.

"To protect the women and to prevent the drunk, creepy, unwanted male from entering the hotel room uninvited, Crump punched the male a few times," Balcom said in his report, citing Crump's version of events.

"These few punches proved successful in stopping the unwanted drunk male, and he walked away."

'You called police to say you beat up a guy?

Balcom said Crump was "argumentative, hostile, antagonistic" while reporting the incident — behaviour the officer attributed to Crump's intoxication.

Police-worn body camera footage of the January night shows a rattled-looking Crump hurling profanities at the officers who came to the resort.

Crump, wearing a shirt allegedly torn by Brown during their scuffle, became verbally combative after a puzzled police officer initially questioned why Crump called law enforcement when he admitted to punching Brown.

"You called police to say you beat up a guy?" Balcom said.

"There's nothing here then? This guy being a creeper and then following these girls to their room is totally fine?" Crump said in response.

"One hundred per cent he was touching them. He kissed them on the f–king hand. He was trying to follow them to their f–king room. He's groping them on the f–king chair."

"Your hostile attitude and aggressive demeanour has no part in this conversation. It's not going to be productive at all," Balcom said.

"Shut up dude. Just shut your mouth," Crump said to the officer before Balcom threatened to arrest him for disorderly conduct.

The nearly hour-long footage depicts Balcom's interactions with Crump and then his interviews with three of Crump's female companions, all of whom allegedly were involved in the incident.

The four people interviewed by the Paradise Valley police officer relayed similar versions of the night's events.

'Very uncomfortable'

One of the women reported that she invited Brown to join her and her mother for drinks near them at the resort bar.

After identifying himself as a Supreme Court justice, Brown allegedly proceeded to kiss the woman in question "once or twice" on her cheek, and then touched the small of her back and a leg.

The woman told the officer that Brown did not touch her buttocks, breasts or vaginal area. She said Brown made her feel "very uncomfortable."

She told the officer that she was "thankful" that Crump escorted her back to her room after Brown's alleged unwanted advances.

The woman's mother, who appeared to Balcom to be sober, told the officer that Brown was "very intoxicated" and "creepy."

She said Crump's use of force was "reasonable and necessary to get the creepy drunk man away from them."

Balcom said he was unable to get Brown's version of events.

'No crime was determined'

He said he knocked on Brown's hotel room door multiple times but got no response. The resort staff only knew Brown's name and cell phone number.

Without hearing Brown's side of the story, Balcom concluded that two intoxicated men got into a brief physical altercation after Brown followed the group back to their hotel room and attempted to follow the women inside their room uninvited.

"Based on the totality of the circumstances, the use of force appeared reasonable and necessary, and no crime was determined," Balcom said.

After Crump went public with his version of events in an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Brown issued a statement in March refuting some of the former Marine's story.

"On the evening of January 28, 2023, I was in Arizona to participate in an awards banquet at a local resort. Following the event, I joined other attendees at the resort lounge. In the course of the evening, a group at a nearby table invited me to join them," Brown said in that statement.

Brown said that while he was chatting with the group, a man identified as Crump joined the group but did not speak to Brown.

"We all left the lounge at roughly the same time. Outside the lounge, Mr. Crump objected to me rejoining the group and suddenly, without warning or provocation, punched me several times in the head. Taken by surprise, I was unable to defend myself," Brown said.

Brown said he did not instigate the event.

Gover and Heine said Monday that they've uncovered other "evidence" they claim refutes Crump's story.

They said the new evidence suggests there were "glaring contradictions, inaccuracies and embellishments" in Crump's story to police, the lawyers said.

They said the evidence includes surveillance footage depicting Brown's interactions with Crump's female companions, evidence from the hotel bartender, evidence from a hotel security officer who attended to incident, a recording of Crump's 911 call and "investigative reports prepared by a very experienced and capable investigator, who is a former police detective."

The lawyers did not explain how this new material would refute claims by Crump and his female companions about that January night in Arizona.

"This evidence and the other evidence uncovered increasingly pointed in one direction: to a calculated plan by the complainant to concoct an account in which Justice Brown was the aggressor — to 'get out ahead of it,' in the words of one of the complainant's own companions," Brown's lawyers said.

"We are confident that, in light of all this evidence, Justice Brown would have been completely vindicated at the conclusion of the Canadian Judicial Council's process. However, the effect of the process on the court and the considerable strain on Justice Brown and his family, have led him to this decision to retire."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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