Suzanne Duncan, Yukon’s newest Supreme Court judge, talks to media in Whitehorse on Dec. 10. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Former KDFN lawyer becomes the second woman to be appointed resident Yukon Supreme Court judge

Longtime lawyer Suzanne Duncan said she felt “very privileged” to serve in her new role

The Yukon’s newest Supreme Court judge says she was shocked when she received word of her appointment, but is prepared to take on all the challenges that will come with the role.

“It’s a real honour to have this position and I feel very privileged to be able to do it,” Suzanne Duncan told reporters during a press conference Dec. 10.

Canada’s attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould appointed Duncan, a lawyer with more than three decades of legal experience, to the position Nov. 30. She replaces the late Justice Leigh Gower, who passed away unexpectedly in October, and is the second woman in 120 years to be appointed as a resident Yukon Supreme Court justice. The first, Edith Campbell, was appointed and sworn in earlier this year.

Her appointment also marks the first time in the court’s history that the number of resident women judges outnumber the men.

Duncan acknowledged that the road ahead won’t be easy; she’ll be shadowing Campbell and Chief Justice Ron Veale to get a firmer grasp on the areas of law she’s less familiar with and the intricacies of being a judge, as well as taking courses with the National Judicial Institute.

“Right now everything seems challenging,” she said. “I think learning the new areas of law, the areas I haven’t practiced as much in will be a big challenge, you know, learning how to sort of run a courtroom, to be in the courtroom and be the one that people look to … And then just making thoughtful decisions, hopefully the right decisions, will be challenging as well.”

She added that she felt “really privileged” to be joining a group of judges who have set “high standards” and have displayed a “high quality” of judging.

Veale, who was also at the press conference, said Duncan’s appointment happened quickly in the wake of Gower’s death, largely because the court has seen an increase in the volume of cases it handles as the territory’s population grows. The court is now handling more criminal jury trials for a variety of charges, he explained, and, on the civil side, mediations and judicial settlement conferences are a “big part” of what judges do now.

“Our workload has increased exponentially in the last several years, and so, you know, we were able to a certain extent fill in and pick up for Justice Gower when he passed but I couldn’t continue to do that … I’d quit,” Veale joked.

“So (Duncan’s appointment) is great because we can just ease her in now to help pick up some of that load.”

Duncan will be informally sworn in sometime this week, Veale said, with a formal swearing-in ceremony to be held early in the new year.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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