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

An RCMP cruiser. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Police kept busy following overnight vehicle thefts, B&Es near 100 Mile House

One man is facing charges and three others suspects in relation to the thefts

A new banner was unveiled Monday, June 21, in Williams Lake that will hang across Oliver Street. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Orange Shirt Banner Project unveiled in Williams Lake

The Every Child Matters - 215 banner will hang across the city’s main street

(File Photo)
Police watchdog clears 100 Mile RCMP of wrongdoing after man dies in Williams Lake shelter

The man had been in custody at 100 Mile RCMP detachment prior to being taken to Williams Lake

The future of the Quesnel Rec Centre pool is unknown after residents shot down potential renovations in a referendum. (Melanie Law photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Cariboo Regional District, Quesnel residents shoot down pool renovations in referendum

The $20 million project needed approval from people living in the North Cariboo Recreation area

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Most Read