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

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

(Black Press File Photo)
Sylvan Lake RCMP charge youth with weapons offences

The public helped to identify the individual involved in an incident at the pier earlier this month

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

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

Most Read