Calgary judge apologizes to law students for comments 'insensitive to racial minorities'

A Calgary judge has apologized to University of Calgary law students for what have been described as racist comments made during a guest lecture Thursday, CBC News has learned.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Kristine Eidsvik apologized to 2nd year students on Friday

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Kristine Eidsvik has apologized to University of Calgary law students for making comments 'insensitive to racial minorities' during a guest lecture. (University of Calgary)

A Calgary judge has apologized to University of Calgary law students for what have been described as racist comments made during a guest lecture Thursday, CBC News has learned.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Kristine Eidsvik — who is the judge in residence at the university — made the remarks to second-year students taking a negotiation class.

"I am sorry for offending or causing hurt to anyone in this room from the bottom of my heart," said Eidsvik. "I hope that you will accept my apology."

Uncomfortable with 'dark people'

Several students say Eidsvik talked about being uncomfortable when she walked into a room "full of big dark people." One student told CBC News the judge said she was used to having a button to press if she was in trouble. 

The students say Eidsvik told them she was used to being in her "ivory tower" where she's normally "removed from the riff raff."

"I made a remark about my initial reaction walking into a JDR [judicial dispute resolution] 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," said Eidsvik in her apology to the class on Friday.

Law school Dean Ian ​Holloway emailed students after the all-day class saying the remarks had been brought to his attention and the university would be looking into the situation. He then arranged for Eidsvik to return to the class Friday morning. 

'I frankly feel sick about it'

Several students spoke with CBC News on the condition of anonymity, worried they may one day have to appear before the superior court judge. The racially diverse class includes more than 100 students.

"I just looked around in shock; I was like, 'Did you guys just hear that?'" said one student.

On Friday, Eidsvik told the class her door was open to those who wished to discuss the comments further and said she "felt sick" about what she'd said.

In Eidsvik's apology, which she sent to CBC News Friday afternoon, she said she would not try to justify her 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."

'It's not a right to be on the bench'

Students had mixed feelings after Eidsvik's apology; some accepted it and believed it was heartfelt, others were left struggling with mixed emotions.

"I'm Indigenous and that was my initial response, that it was a racist comment and shouldn't have been said," said one student, who asked that their name not be used.

The student added that they accepted the apology.

"I think it was sincere, I think it was heartfelt, I don't think the emotion that she demonstrated was feigned in any way. I wish she would have committed to actions of redress in the future."

Another second-year student told CBC News they worry, "someone who has those views is on the bench and is making decisions that affect people's lives."

"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?" they said.

The student said they hope there are "serious repercussions."

"It's not a right to be on the bench, right? It's a privilege … I think it's contrary to our values to have someone like that in a position of power."

Another student, Rajvir Gill, said she was surprised when she heard the judge's words. 

"Just because that person is very highly regarded, very intelligent, very esteemed and accomplished and she does do a lot of work with the community and it was just unexpected from her in that environment," she said.

"Maybe what was shocking was the ease at which it came, and how, almost, it was comfortable to say that, so it was almost like she was ignorant to the fact it was offensive."

Concerns taken seriously, says court

A spokesperson for the Court of Queen's Bench said the superior court is aware of the situation and pointed out Eidsvik has issued an "extensive apology to the students for her inappropriate comment."

"The court does not condone the justice's comment and takes the concerns expressed by the students very seriously," said Michelle Somers. 

Somers said the court is confident this was a case of "an unfortunate human error on the part of the justice and not reflective of her character and experience."

"However, it is important for the public to bring these matters to the court's attention. The court is committed to the education of its justices who regularly undertake social context training."

'Learning moment'

The law school said the incident has been resolved.

"This matter was addressed immediately," a spokesperson said in a statement late Friday.

"This morning the judge in residence apologized to the class expressing deep regret for making the comments. We used the experience as an important learning moment for faculty and students."

Eidsvik was appointed to the Court of Queen's bench in 2007.


Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at or follow her on Twitter.