New group makes another attempt at a Nunavut law school
A new group in Iqaluit wants to enable law school studies in Nunavut.
IQALUIT — Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik may be the territory’s first Inuk lawyer, but a new Nunavut law school society wants to ensure that more Inuit law students follow in his footsteps.
The Akitsiraq Law School Society is a new group formed last spring to bring a law school to Nunavut’s capital.
The propsed law school would allow Inuit students to study law in Nuanvut without having to move to a southern province away from their families. After four years of study, students would receive a full law degree from the University of Victoria.
“I think it’s important to have Inuit lawyers who know about the traditional way of life,” said Methusalah Kunuk, a member of the society. “Inuit lawyers would be more approachable for people who don’t speak English at all.”
Aaju Peter, a member of the new law school society, is interested in pursuing a law degree. She said it’s important to have legal education available in the North.
“I tried to go down south for school and leaving my family, it was too hard,” Peter said.
Ties with University of Victoria
The new society, formed last spring, is made up of employees of the Nunavut justice department and others interested in bringing a law school to Nunavut. It has since has teamed up with the University of Victoria in B.C. to supply teachers, curriculum and books.
The society wants to create a program that will be accepted throughout Canada, but is also specific to Nunavut, the law society says in a press release. Courses on land claims or community justice may be offered.
But before a school can actually start up, money and students must be found.
The dean of the faculty of law at the University of Victoria, Jamie Cassels, will travel to Ottawa next week to lobby the federal justice department for money.
Cassels could not say how much money would be needed to run the program, but he said it would likely cost at least $10,000 per student per year to run the program.
“We’re not looking to student tuition to pay the costs… students couldn’t afford it,” Cassels said.
Instead, the law society hopes to find funding from different government bodies and work with Iqaluit’s court house or the justice department to create a law library.
As well the law society is canvassing local government and non-government organizations to sponsor students while they attend class. Sponsors would pay the students’ tuition fees and provide a salary during studies.
“Many of the people who may be attracted to program may be leaving good jobs and have families to support,” Cassels said.
“The student would have to be given enough of an allowance to help their families,” Kunuk said. Students would be expected to work for their sponsor for two years after graduation.
The society hopes to have enough funding for 10 to 15 spaces, with classes starting next fall. The program would require one full-time director located in Iqaluit and three faculty members that could be flown in from other parts of the country, Cassels said.
A minimum number of students would be needed to allow the program to go ahead, Cassels said.
The law school will also have to attract enough students. Cassels said the university will create the entry criteria. At this point the law society is thinking about admitting only beneficiaries of the Inuit land claim, but it may be open to others, Cassels said.
The course is expected to include an extra prepatory year to upgrade students, plus another three years of study. Cassels stressed that degrees awarded by the new law school will have the same weight as those issued at southern law schools.
“It will be rigorous and it will be the same standard,” Cassels said.
The drive to bring a law school to the Arctic began about five years ago under Judge Beverly Browne.
A separate legal studies program for students who wanted careers as court workers or community justice workers was offered by Arctic College in 1997.
The program also held special sessions to prepare students who wanted to obtain an undergraduate degree from a southern university and later apply to law school. It was scrapped in 1998 when money ran out. No students completed the two-year program.