Students and staff with the Nunavut Law program pose for a photo in downtown Iqaluit in 2017, the year this program was formally launched. For the first time in more than 15 years, Nunavut has a group of homegrown lawyers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Nunavut Law Program-Benjamin Ralston *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Students and staff with the Nunavut Law program pose for a photo in downtown Iqaluit in 2017, the year this program was formally launched. For the first time in more than 15 years, Nunavut has a group of homegrown lawyers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Nunavut Law Program-Benjamin Ralston *MANDATORY CREDIT*

‘To make change in Nunavut’: Homegrown lawyers ready to enter legal profession

Emily Karpik said that job made her realize how badly Inuit were needed to work in Nunavut’s courts

For the first time in more than 15 years, Nunavut has a group of homegrown lawyers.

Last month, 23 students wrote their final exams for the Nunavut law program in the same classroom they spent most of their days in the last four years.

The graduating class of lawyers is the first in Nunavut since 2005. The most recent program, which began in 2017, has been run jointly through the Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

The program brought Robert Comeau, who was born in Iqaluit, home after he completed a political science degree in Ottawa.

“Law school isn’t this unattainable thing. It happened here in Iqaluit. It’s not a shot in the dark,” Comeau said.

Many of the program’s professors flew up from southern Canada to teach, so courses were condensed into three-week intensive modules. Students spent class time packed into what used to be a hotel bar.

“We were like sardines,” Comeau said. “It’s not like down south where you have 200 people in your class.”

Despite the close quarters, Comeau and his classmates became good friends, he said.

“We’re family now.”

Comeau said students ranged from young people to others with 20 to 30 years of workforce experience. The program had over 80 applicants and accepted 25 students. All but two finished.

‘We have younger Inuit, older Inuit, qalunaat (non-Inuit) and a mix of mature students and students coming right out of university.”

The first year was dedicated to studying Inuit history and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement which created the territory.

Comeau said a legal education is a privilege.

“Regardless if you’re practising law, or influencing policy or running a business, you are more well-equipped to deal with the problems facing our community,” he said.

“I want to take this degree and do the best things I can do with it.”

Comeau said he’d like to see more professors from closer to home.

“People want to come teach us. We’ve had one of the best faculties available to any class of law students,” he said.

“But there were concerns throughout the program about why some classes couldn’t be taught by local professors.”

Emily Karpik, another Nunavut law graduate, grew up in Pangnirtung and used to work as a Crown witness co-ordinator at the public prosecution office in Iqaluit. She said that job made her realize how badly Inuit were needed to work in Nunavut’s courts

“I really saw the need for Inuit to take part in … the court system as lawyers, as judges — Inuit who speak the language especially. I saw a lot of Inuit not understanding this system that is foreign to them.”

Karpik, whose first language is Inuktitut, said she wants to bring her mother tongue into the courtroom.

“How can I use the Inuktitut language within the system to help Inuit get a better understanding of the law? It’s a struggle, but it’s possible.”

Sixteen of the program’s 23 graduates are Inuit, something Karpik said will make a big difference in a Nunavut’s legal landscape, which is dominated by lawyers from southern Canada.

“We understand the dynamics of living in the North. This is who we are. This is how we live. A lot of times I’ve come to learn and understand that lawyers who come up from the south don’t have that understanding,” she said.

Another Nunavut law student, Jessica Shabtai, grew up in Toronto and moved to Iqaluit in 2014. She’d like to see a dedicated law program in Nunavut.

“In enough time, I’d love to see some of my classmates teaching this program.”

The college hasn’t indicated that the degree will be offered again.

Karpik said if it is, she would like to see more focus on the Inuktitut language and Inuit laws.

Comeau, who is Inuk, agrees.

“Sure, we’re all getting degrees, but now there’s this community of people that are going to actively use this education to make change in Nunavut.”

___

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

LawyersNunavut

Just Posted

Processed sewage is still being deposited at the Hartland landfill rather than sent as biosolids to a Richmond cement plant. (Black Press Media file photo)
Biosolids at Hartland still being placed on landfill in Saanich

Richmond cement plant up and running, but CRD end product not suitable for purpose

An SUV sits where it crashed through the front window of the 2:18 Run store in Fairfield Plaza, after the driver appeared to lose control on Monday afternoon. (Photo by Phil Nicholls)
Driver crashes through front window of Victoria running store in Fairfield

Phil Nicholls of 2:18 Run said crash sounded like an earthquake at first

Seismic upgrading and expansion work at Victoria High School is about a year behind due to pandemic-related factors, the Greater Victoria School District announced. (Photo by Cole Descoteau)
Victoria High School seismic work, expansion a year behind schedule

Greater Victoria School District now targeting September 2023 for reopening of historic school

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes following provincial reopening announcement

Recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Elk Lake Drive area resident Michael Blayney protests a proposed multi-building development for his Royal Oak neighbourhood, outside Saanich municipal hall on Monday (June 14). (Photo by Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Demonstrators protest 11-storey development on Elk Lake Drive in Saanich

Saanich locals gather at municipal hall to protest development, public hearing goes Tuesday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

Most Read