BC’s first Black woman judge

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There will be 73 women judges and 17 women judicial justices in the Provincial Court of British Columbia* as of March 10, 2022, the first International Day of Women Judges. The appointments of several of our judges were milestones in our province’s history. This week, eNews will celebrate those milestones with a series profiling some of the women judges whose appointments were “firsts”. We begin with Judge Thérèse Alexander, BC’s first Black woman judge.

Judge Alexander

Judge Thérèse Alexander was the first Black woman appointed a judge in British Columbia. She was appointed to the BC Provincial Court on January 8, 1996.

Judge Alexander is a fourth generation British Columbian – her great-great-grandparents Charles and Nancy Alexander came to Vancouver Island from San Francisco in 1858. Charles Alexander was a farmer, prospector, and preacher, as well as a skilled carpenter and orator. The Alexanders owned fertile farmland in Saanich and successful businesses in Victoria. They helped build the community in Saanich – Charles Alexander built the first school there and a church where he preached. He became a school trustee while Nancy Alexander, who had 12 children, was active in the church community and in a Women’s Institute promoting education and health for women.

Her great-great-grandparents’ legacy is evident in Judge Alexander’s articulate speech in both official languages, and her contributions to the legal and wider communities. Her own background is in the arts. She trained as a classical ballet dancer and her education included attending the Université de Québec at Trois Rivières and La Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris in addition to obtaining bachelor’s (1980) and law (1983) degrees at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Judge Alexander was admitted to the BC bar in 1984 and co-founded a law firm where she practised civil litigation. Before her appointment as a Provincial Court judge in 1996 she spent two years as a part-time Commissioner of the BC Motor Carrier Commission. Her volunteer work included serving on the Advisory Council to the Law Society of British Columbia’s Gender Bias Committee. She also spent six years as an elected member of the Canadian Bar Association’s national and provincial councils and three years on the executive of the New Westminster Bar Association, including as president.

As one of the Court’s bilingual judges, Judge Alexander conducts trials in French. Her judicial volunteer work demonstrates her commitment to bilingualism and equality. In 2007, she became President of the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges, after serving on its executive and chairing its Bilingualism and Equality and Diversity Committees. She has also served on the boards of directors of the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice and the Canadian chapter of the International Association of Women Judges, and as a member of the Provincial Court Chief Judge’s Equality Committee and the National Judicial Institute’s Social Context Education Planning Advisory Committee.

Judge Alexander has served as a faculty member and bilingual facilitator at various National Judicial Institute judicial education programs, pioneering a program module and corresponding educational video on “Working with Interpreters” which has been presented throughout Canada. She was a co-author of the BC Annual Criminal Practice book from 2014-2018.

Judge Alexander has been honoured by both the BC Association of Black Law Students and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers in recognition of her contributions to the Black community and the legal profession.

Reflecting on her family’s history, Judge Alexander says:

“I was fortunate to come from a supportive family that valued education. My brother and I were the first in our family to pursue post secondary education. Today I am proud of our two sons Ryan and Robin who have both chosen to follow their parents’ career path in law.

When I am in Victoria, I always make a pilgrimage to Shady Creek United Church on East Saanich Road. There is a Heritage Canada marker at the church acknowledging the Black pioneers that came to Saanich and their contributions to the community. When I visit the Alexander family plot beside the church, where my great-great-grandparents and other family members are buried, I often wonder what they would think. I stand on the shoulders of both my parents and those hard-working pioneers who had a vision of possibilities for future generations.”

* These figures include full-time and part-time Senior judges and full and part-time judicial justices. They do not include judicial officers on Long Term Disability.