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20th of January 2018

Canada



Law profs pen letter condemning Calgary judge's comments that 'reflected racist myths and stereotypes'

Law professors at the University of Calgary have penned a letter expressing support for students and colleagues and condemning a judge's comments during a guest lecture to students that "reflected racist myths and stereotypes about people, and particularly men, of colour."

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Kristine Eidsvik was speaking to a second-year law class last week when she told a story about being nervous in a room full of "big dark people." Eidsvik apologized to the class the next day, saying she "felt sick" about her comments.

"[We] believe it essential to identify her initial remarks as categorically inconsistent with our core values, both institutionally and personally, as lawyers and legal educators," reads the letter that appears on the school's faculty of law blog. 

It's not clear from the letter — which is unsigned — how many professors it represents.

The full letter, attributed to "concerned faculty members at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law," can be read here. 

Earlier this week, Eidsvik resigned her position as judge-in-residence and the Canadian Judicial Council confirmed it was reviewing a complaint made against the judge.

The professors said they struggled with how best to respond to Eidsvik's comments and ensuing controversy but felt a responsibility to speak out in support of students and colleagues who were "personally impacted by the comments and thank those who came forward to express their concerns."

The Canadian Judicial Council's review will likely "identify the appropriate response" that would best uphold the public's respect for the administration of justice, said the educators in their statement. 

The blog post includes a list of points the authors wanted to emphasize: 

Racist attitudes, including explicit and implicit bias, are an ongoing problem in our legal system. Every actor in the legal system has a responsibility to work positively to redress racism, and to improve the justice and fairness of the law and how it is applied. Judges bear a particular responsibility to ensure that they make decisions free of bias and in accordance with the values and principles enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the right to equality. Legal educators are responsible to ensure that law school admissions and classrooms redress rather than reinforce inequality. The judiciary, the legal profession and the legal academy ought to reflect and respect race, class and other forms of diversity.

The group recommends the law faculty include seminars on equality and bias during the university's annual teaching workshops and suggests both the courts and the National Judicial Institute consider educational programs that will help judges remedy the issue of racism within the legal system rather than reinforce inequalities.

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