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Judge Tells Law Students That Rooms ‘Full Of Big Dark People’ Make Her Uncomfortable

The school called this an ‘important learning moment’ for law students.

Justice Kristine Eidsvik

It’s not every day that a sitting judge will make racially insensitive remarks during an all-day guest lecture in front of an entire room full of future lawyers, but this very thing happened just last week.

On Thursday, second-year students at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law were in shock after listening to what Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Kristine Eidsvik, the school’s judge-in-residence for the academic year, had to say about minorities during what was supposed to be a lecture on mediation and negotiation. According to students, Justice Eidsvik told the class that she felt uncomfortable having to walk into a room “full of big dark people” during judicial dispute resolutions, and that she’s used to being in an “ivory tower,” where she’s “removed from the riff raff.”

Please note the important UPDATE below.

“Yesterday afternoon, in response to a question, I made a remark about my initial reaction walking into a JDR room that as soon as it came out of my mouth I recognized was not appropriate, and could be construed as insensitive to racial minorities,” Eidsvik stated in the text.

“I am not here this morning to try and justify my comment. It was wrong and I apologize to all of you for making it. I want to express my regret for having said anything like this at all. I frankly feel sick about it,” she added. …

Her apology continued that her door is always open, both at the law school and when she returns to the courts. She said she wanted to be able to help the students connect with the court and understand its process.

“I also want to say that in addition to helping you, I want to thank you for helping me learn from you,” she told the class. “I try to be very sensitive in my job and life but I am human and clearly far from perfect. But this is no excuse

Some students were far from satisfied with Justice Eidsvik’s apology, and understandably so. “[S]omeone who has those views is on the bench and is making decisions that affect people’s lives,” said one student in an interview with CBC News. “Being a person of colour planning on becoming a lawyer, it makes me think if it comes down to the wire … would someone like that on the bench give the other side the victory just because they’re white and I’m not?” the student said.

Michelle Somers, a spokesperson for the Court of Queen’s Bench, said that while the Court was sure this was “an unfortunate human error on the part of the justice and not reflective of her character and experience,” the Court “does not condone the justice’s comment and takes the concerns expressed by the students very seriously.” Somers added that the Court’s justices “regularly undertake social context training.” Hmm… apparently Justice Eidsvik missed the lesson where judges were trained not to make racist remarks in front of future counsel.

According to a Calgary Law spokesperson, Justice Eidsvik’s comments and subsequent apology were “an important learning moment for faculty and students.” We’re so glad everyone learned that even some judges are subconsciously biased against minorities.

UPDATE (1/16): Justice Eidsvik has since resigned from her position as a judge in residence at Calgary Law, and complaints about her commentary have been referred to the Canadian Judicial Counsel.

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