Akitisirak grad plans Nunavut’s first Inuit law firm
“I’m very aware that many Inuit face basic access to justice issues”
After a year working as a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Madeleine Redfern is returning to Iqaluit with dreams of making the legal system more accessible to Inuit.
“My goal is to have the first Inuit law firm in Iqaluit and in Nunavut,” says Redfern, who is not new to being a trailblazer.
“I’m very aware that many Inuit face basic access to justice issues.”
She was the first Inuk law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada, and one of 11 graduates of the Akitsiraq Law School.
This was a one-time, four-year law program offered jointly by the faculty of law at University of Victoria and Nunavut Arctic College to train Inuit in the law, to help work in private practice, industry and the public sector.
The program taught a modified curriculum supplied by the University of Victoria, which included Inuktitut classes, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and traditional approaches to law, along with standard legal training.
Redfern plans to finish her term in Ottawa and return to Nunavut in August to take up a new post with the legal department of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and hit the books for the bar exam, which she will take next spring.
“Whether it’s working at NTI or outside of it, I’m always particularly keen and interested in keeping on top of what the issues are around Nunavut that are affecting Inuit,” says Redfern.
This awareness of the relationship between Inuit and the justice system comes from Redfern’s experience as an Inuk living in the Arctic, but also from her legal education, which was designed to create Inuit lawyers.
Despite her unique education, Redfern never questioned her abilities when she headed south to the country’s highest court.
“There is no question whatsoever that I felt adequately prepared,” said Redfern. “In many ways I felt that our education in the Akitsiraq program was very enriching and unique because when you look at the southern law schools some of the classes can be hundreds of students with one professor and you just don’t have that same dialogue. We had access to some of the top legal academics across this country.”
Redfern took up her clerk post at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa in August 2005, after she was chosen from a group comprising 200 of Canada’s top law school graduates.
She was hired by the highly respected Madam Justice Louise Arbour, who was leaving her position with the court to take the position of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to clerk for her replacement, Madam Justice Louise Charron.
“The reality is that I am who I am, which includes my Inuit heritage and my experiences interacting with my family, interacting with my community, living in the North, so when I have worked on some cases at this court I have found sometimes that I do have a different perspective or approach on a legal issue,” says Redfern. “I believe that on a few cases that perspective has been useful to my judge.”
Her hard work and perspective did not go unnoticed during her time at the Supreme Court.
“Madeleine has proven, by her hard work and unwavering perseverance, that she has the makings of a true leader,” says Justice Charron. “Her next venture brings her back to Nunavut — she will undoubtedly be a valuable asset to her community.”
Her time working where laws are made and precedents are set for courts across the country encouraged Redfern about possibilities for the future, for her work and for Nunavut.
“I see how customary law and the constitution are evolving,” she says. “There is room for legal arguments to be made before the courts to have Inuit laws recognized and that’s very encouraging. I see the potential for Inuit, especially in Nunavut, to draft legislation that is based on out values, our priorities and our laws.”