Yukon Supreme Court's newest judge says appointment 'a good step for diversity'

·3 min read

The Yukon Supreme Court's newest judge says her appointment is a step forward for diversity — but that there's more work to do.

The federal government announced Karen Wenckebach's appointment on Nov. 19, marking the third time in the court's history a woman has been chosen as a resident judge.

She joins Justice Edith Campbell, who in 2018 was the first woman to be appointed a resident justice, and Chief Justice Suzanne Duncan, the first woman to serve in that role.

It's the first time the Yukon Supreme Court's bench has consisted entirely of women.

Speaking to media on Thursday, Wenckebach said that fact was "certainly an achievement."

"It's a good step for diversity," she said.

"Hopefully we'll be taking more steps and becoming more inclusive in terms of people of colour, First Nations judges, that would be great. But it's wonderful."

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

Diversity on the bench, she explained, helps bring in a variety of perspectives on the law as well as people's lived experiences, which in turn "provides a better breadth of understanding and decision-making."

"With regards to First Nations, I can't imagine how it is for somebody who is First Nations, who has been subject to this colonial power, having to continue to be subject to it and be faced by somebody who is white," she said.

From clerk to judge

Wenckebach is no stranger to the Yukon Supreme Court. She worked as a law clerk for both territorial and supreme court judges after moving from Ontario to Yukon in the early 2000s. She went on to work as a lawyer for the Yukon Legal Services Society, also known as legal aid, before switching over to the Yukon government in 2013, where she worked until her judicial appointment.

She described going from being a clerk to a judge as "pretty neat," noting that her old office is still being used by the current law clerk.

"I think that being a clerk, you get a little bit more understanding of ... how [judges] are approaching things and what they're faced with. So that, I think, gave me a little bit of insight," she said.

She added that she thought it was important to bring a "humane perspective" to the law and to make the justice system more accessible to everyone.

"It can be a very dehumanizing system," Wenckebach said.

"People enter it and what is a very personal experience to them becomes a set of facts that's applied to tests. And it's important to try and have people who are subject to the law feel like they are a part of it and it's not just something that's being done to them."

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

Jane Sponagle/CBC
Jane Sponagle/CBC

"We've been extremely busy in the last few months … So we're very happy to have someone else to share the load with us," Duncan said.

Wenckebach is expected to start hearing matters in early 2021.