Lawyers question fairness of Calgary judge accused of racist remarks

Some lawyers in Alberta are questioning the impact on future clients if they go before a judge accused of making racially insensitive comments, with one lawyer even wondering whether they'd get a fair hearing.

Justice Kristine Eidsvik apologized on Friday for comments ‘insensitive to racial minorities'

The Canadian Judicial Council is reviewing a complaint against Court of Queen's Bench Justice Kristine Eidsvik, who apologized to University of Calgary law students for making comments 'insensitive to racial minorities' in a guest lecture last week. (University of Calgary)

Some lawyers in Alberta are questioning the impact on future clients if they go before a judge accused of making racially insensitive comments.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Kristine Eidsvik came under fire last week for comments to a law class at the University of Calgary that were understood as her expressing a fear of "big dark people."

Eidsvik promptly apologized, saying she knew her comments were wrong and she "felt sick" about them.

But Alberta lawyer Avnish Nanda said an apology doesn't cut it.

"Most of my clients are people of colour, are marginalized people, and I would be extremely concerned as to if these people get a fair hearing before this justice if she has those feelings toward them," he told CBC News on Monday.

Nanda said he thinks it's the responsibility of the legal community to push for racial sensitivity training for judges.

"I think it's incumbent on both the legal professions, the justice involved and her colleagues to push toward some sort of racial sensitivity training, address the unconscious or conscious biases the justice has toward people of colour," he said.

Lawyer Avnish Nanda says it's the responsibility of the legal community to push for racial sensitivity training for judges. (Nanda Law)

Calgary lawyer Elias Munshya said he doesn't believe all people who make racist comments are truly racist, and he doesn't think Eidsvik's perceived views affect her decision-making.

"I don't think she's a racist and I would look forward to appearing before her knowing she would fairly adjudicate my cases," he said.

Munshya said he doesn't know of any prior complaints lodged against Eidsvik, and said the fact she realized immediately her comments were inappropriate and apologized should speak volumes.

"Judges are human," he said.

Munshya said he thinks the real problem in Alberta is a lack of diversity on the bench, and he wants that addressed by the government.

"It is very sad, looking at all the judges, of all the judges in Alberta right now — from provincial court to court of appeal — you don't have big, dark people, as justice Eidsvik has said," he told CBC News.

"We need black judges. The government must appoint diverse judges, and I think that would help inspire confidence in the judiciary, in the courts, as representative of the people of Alberta."

Kelly Ernst, president of the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, agrees with Nanda about offering judges more racial sensitivity training.

"Everybody benefits from training of this nature. Nobody loses in that kind of training," he said. "And, the more you give it across organizations instead of focusing on specific people, the more people will actually benefit when interacting with those organizations."

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Lucie most recently headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson