The new Yukon Supreme Court judge calls his appointment a “good step for diversity”


The new Yukon Supreme Court judge says her appointment is a step forward for diversity – but there is more work to be done.

The federal government announced the appointment of Karen Wenckebach on November 19. It is the third time in the court's history that a woman has been elected as a resident judge.

She joins Judge Edith Campbell, who was appointed as the first woman to serve in the bench in 2018, and Chief Judge Suzanne Duncan, the first woman to hold the seat.

This is the first time that the Yukon Supreme Court benches have been comprised entirely of women.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Wenckebach said this was “certainly a success.”

“It’s a good step for diversity,” she said.

“Hopefully we'll take further steps and become more inclusive when it comes to people of colour and First Nations judges. That would be great. But it's wonderful.”

Paul Tukker/CBCPaul Tukker/CBC

Paul Tukker/CBC

She explained that diversity among judges helps bring in different perspectives on the law and people's life experiences, which in turn “leads to broader understanding and better decision-making.”

“As far as First Nations are concerned, I can't imagine what it's like for someone who is First Nations, who has been subjected to this colonial power, to continue to be subjected to it, and to have to deal with someone who is white,” she said.

From court clerk to judge

Wenckebach is no newcomer to the Yukon Supreme Court. After moving to Yukon from Ontario in the early 2000s, she worked as a law clerk for territorial and Supreme Court judges. She then worked as a lawyer for the Yukon Legal Services Society, also known as Legal Aid, before joining the Yukon government in 2013, where she worked until her appointment as a judge.

She described the transition from trainee to judge as “pretty cool” and pointed out that her old office is still used by the current trainee lawyer.

“I think that as an employee you get a little more understanding of how [judges] how they approach things and what they face. I think that gave me a little insight,” she said.

She added that she believes it is important to bring a “humane perspective” into legislation and make the justice system more accessible to all.

“It can be a very dehumanizing system,” Wenckebach said.

“People walk into it and what is a very personal experience for them becomes a set of facts that are applied in tests. And it's important to try to make people who are subject to the law feel like they are part of it and it's not just something that's being done to them.”

Duncan, who was also present at Thursday's news conference, said she and Campbell were “very relieved” about Wenckebach's appointment; the Yukon Supreme Court has been short a judge since former Chief Justice Ron Veale retired in July.

Jane Sponagle/CBCJane Sponagle/CBC

Jane Sponagle/CBC

“We have been extremely busy over the last few months… so we are very happy to have someone else share the burden with us,” Duncan said.

The Wenckebach hearings are expected to begin in early 2021.