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University of Calgary says judge apologizes after making comments ‘insensitive to racial minorities’

The University of Calgary entrance sign and arch on July 13, 2014 in Calgary, Alberta.

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A judge holding a residency at the University of Calgary has had to apologize to a group of law students after allegedly making racist comments during one of their classes.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Kristine Eidsvik spoke to the second-year students in a negotiations class on Thursday afternoon during which she made comments that were "insensitive to racial minorities," according to a statement provided by the law school. It happened during a question-and-answer session and resulted in students complaining to the university about the remarks.

Justice Eidsvik told the class she was uncomfortable when she entered a room "full of big dark people," according to the CBC. The judge said she told the group she was accustomed to having a button to press if she felt threatened and that she was used to being "removed from the riff-raff," according to students who spoke to CBC.

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The law school said it responded swiftly. "This matter was addressed immediately," according to a statement released by the school. "[On Friday] morning the judge in residence apologized to the class expressing deep regret for making the comments."

Ian Holloway, who is the dean of law at the University of Calgary, refused to answer whether Justice Eidsvik will suffer consequences at the institution.

A statement from the Court of Queen's Bench said the court does not condone Justice Eidsvik's comments and that it takes the concerns expressed by the students very seriously.

"The Court has confidence that this was a matter 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 statement said.

It also said the court is committed to the education of its justices, who it says "regularly undertake social-context training."

The province has distanced itself from Justice Eidsvik, noting the federal government appoints judges to the Court of Queen's Bench in Alberta. Justice Eidsvik's comments do not sit well with the provincial government, according to a spokeswoman for Marlin Schmidt, Alberta's acting Justice Minister.

"This was disappointing to hear and we do not agree with the judge's original comments," spokeswoman Veronica Jubinville said in a statement on Sunday. "Students and all Albertans can be confident in knowing their government respects and embraces diversity and inclusion."

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The federal Department of Justice did not return a request for comment late on Sunday. Justice Eidsvik also did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

The judge was appointed to the Court of Queen's Bench in 2007 after practising law for 23 years. Her residency at the university started in September, 2017, and is scheduled to wrap up in April.

In her apology to the class on Friday morning, Justice Eidsvik told the CBC she feels "sick" about her comments. "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," she said, according to the CBC. The news organization said the judge provided it with her apology.

Branden Cave, the president of the University of Calgary Students' Union, called the university's response to Justice Eidsvik's comments "quick and decisive." The apology, he said, was necessary.

"It is a minimum starting place," he said on Sunday.

With files from The Canadian Press

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