Dordt College News

Calvin Struyk: A legal calling

January 15, 2010

If he’s perfectly honest with himself, Cal Struyk (’87) says, part of the reason he chose law as a profession was because he figured it would keep him financially stable.

It’s immediately obvious, though, that he doesn’t set financial success as a goal, nor does it come up again.

Today it’s all about his work and how it contributes to the good of the community in which he lives and how it supports the family he loves.

Today, after several years of practicing law, Struyk is a judge in Terrace, British Columbia, a place he considers as close to paradise as he could wish.

“I never expected to be a judge, but sometimes God opens the doors and you have to go through,” he says.

“Something drew me to law, even though I didn’t really know what it all involved,” he says, thinking back. And it wasn’t teaching. He’d decided early on that he didn’t want to follow in both parents footsteps and teach. Law combined a number of things that interested him. He’s found that he enjoys dealing with conflict, competition, the drama of daily life, and making sure people get a fair hearing.

“I grew up in a home where people were respected as human beings created in God’s image. If you take seriously the fact that people are created in God’s image, then you need to take them seriously,” he says.

He recalls one incident when, in a social setting, someone asked him how he could be a Christian and be a lawyer. Stunned at the time by the question, he says it made him think about why he should be a lawyer—and also made him even more convinced that Christians need to practice law to help those in need of counsel get justice.

During law school at the University of British Columbia, Struyk spent two summers working in northern British Columbia with a First Nations Band. He had worked in Boston and New York during college summers and decided he didn’t want to live in a large city. He fell in love with the northern British Columbia wilderness. After doing his articling in Vancouver, he took a job in Terrace, moving there with his wife, Anita (Siebring, ’86), and growing family.

“In a small community you have to do it all,” Struyk says of the kind of law he’s practiced. Over the years, he’s done civil litigation, criminal and family law. He’s worked for private firms and the prosecutor’s office, most recently as a part of a busy criminal and family practice.

Working as a litigator is rewarding but demanding,

“You become intimately involved in people’s lives,” says Struyk. “They are counting on you to do the right thing for them.” He believes that the lawyer-client relationship is unique and important in working for justice in society.

“It really is a privilege to help people through difficult times,” Struyk adds, noting more matter-of-factly than defensively that lawyer jokes probably come most easily to people who haven’t needed a lawyer.

It’s also stressful.

“You see the best and worst in life and in people in a courtroom,” he says. And that is what he enjoys the most about the law.

A few years ago, Struyk’s practice began to change from a great deal of courtroom work to more office work. He found he missed the courtroom. So when a judgeship came open and a respected person in the community urged him to consider the position, he applied. In March of 2008, after an extensive interview process, he was appointed a British Columbia judge.

A car accident in July of 2008 in which some of his children were seriously injured affected his start for some months, but today he’s finding the schedule and pace of his life to be one that he enjoys and that is good for his family.

In some ways lawyers have more influence on the outcome of a case than judges do, Struyk has learned. A judge is often a referee who makes sure that due process is followed. His role is to apply the law, often balancing the interests of the individual against the action of the state.

“Most sentencing is governed by precedent, but a judge does have a range of options available,” he says. Struyk tries to be responsive to the circumstances of individuals and protect the interests of the public.

“I’ve been fortunate to have appeared before some very good judges,” he says. “One was strong on procedure and one on listening. I realize now that I’m benefiting from both.

A good deal of his time these days is spent on family law, dealing with custody, access, support, and mobility issues. In family matters, Struyk tries to take a hands-on role in his courtroom, engaging with all of those present to achieve an agreeable outcome—although that is not always possible. He spends four days a week on the bench hearing cases and the fifth day writing decisions.

“I know from my time as a lawyer how important it is to litigants that I be timely in handing down these decisions,” he says, so he works hard to keep up

“I enjoy being part of this process,” he says, yet marveling at some of the stories he hears in court. And he’s still learning how to be the best judge he can be, having only been on the bench for a little over a year.

He’s had to make adjustments, too.

“I miss the collegiality among fellow lawyers,” he says, noting that some social relationships change when your position changes in a small community.

“It’s part of the fish bowl experience, especially in smaller communities,” he says. Always an avid soccer player and a long-time youth soccer coach, he continues to coach soccer—a lot, he adds. In fact, his son’s team took the provincial championship this fall. Hockey also keeps him rubbing shoulders with many people—which occasionally means he hears cryptic comments on his recent rulings. He knows there are always trade-offs with change, but he enjoys more regular hours and more time with Anita and his four children, some of whom will be out of the home within a few years.

“Working with conflict day in and day out wears you out. You have to choose where you can give most,” he says. He thinks he’s found a good balance.


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