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

Norman Mogensen sets up strings for his beans in his plot in the Oak Bay community gardens. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay gardener spends decades cultivating, improving daddy’s beans

85-year-old vegan part of the community gardens scene

Theatre SKAM is offering mobile, pop-up performances to Greater Victoria residents once again this summer. They’ll feature emerging artists Yasmin D’Oshun, Courtney Crawford, Kaelan Bain and Kendra Bidwell (left to right). (Courtesy of Theatre SKAM)
Theatre performances can be ordered to Greater Victoria front yards this summer

Theatre SKAM offering mobile, pop-up performances once again

Diana Durrand and Arlene Nesbitt celebrate the new artist space in 2014. Gage Gallery moves this summer from Oak Bay to Bastion Square in Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Gage Gallery moving to Bastion Square

Vivid Connections, a showcase by Laura Feeleus and Elizabeth Carefoot, opens new venue June 29

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The Victoria woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Days after students’ return to Victoria High School was delayed by a year, the province has announced some amenities that will be included in the school’s expansion project. (Photo by Cole Descoteau)
Child-care spots, artificial turf field, non-profit space included in Vic High expansion

SD61 now aims to welcome students back at the high school by September 2023

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Most Read