Nunavut's education minister is pushing back against accusations the admissions process for the new law degree program at Nunavut Arctic College did not represent Inuit interests.
Paul Quassa says although there were no Inuit on the three-person selection committee, members were directed to get Inuit students into the program.
"We made it very clear that our priority is Inuit lawyers out of this program. And 19 out of the 25 participants are Inuit," said Quassa, who called the selection "successful" and "very representative."
The class selected for this year is 76 per cent Inuit. The territory's population is 85 per cent Inuit.
The 25 students were selected from a pool of 87 applicants.
"The application process was done very professionally and diligently with the intent of arriving at a cohort of students who are in a position to excel in law school," said Quassa.
Quassa said, as in all Nunavut College programs, the admissions committee strives to select students who will complete their programs and become part of the work force.
"That is always our goal: to get as many Inuit working at the professional level in the Nunavut territory."
'Not an ethnic government'
Quassa's statements come as the 25 students begin classes this week in Iqaluit.
Some have criticized the selection committee for accepting older non-Inuit students ahead of younger Inuit, who "have a whole lifetime of contributing to Nunavut ahead of them."
Others who have experience in the legal system, but were not accepted, have questioned the government's priorities.
Its great to see that the next Nunavut Law Program is underway! pic.twitter.com/VzHo0mL78t— @MayorMadeleine
Quassa said the goal of the program is not to cater to Inuit, but to deliver programs for all Nunavummiut.
"This Nunavut government is a public government, and that's how it should be, because that's what Inuit elected to have. It's not an ethnic government."
He said there have been adjustments to the admission process to ensure more Inuit can take part. For example, changes to the admissions test to make it more appropriate for Inuit.
Quassa said admissions were also limited due to space restrictions. He hopes to see more spaces available in future law programs, but stresses that will be up to the next government, which will be elected Oct. 30.
"This is not the last law program that we will see in Nunavut," said Quassa. "I know there was a great interest in this program, and with that in mind, I'm sure the next government will have a good idea that, yes, we do need another law program because there is so much great interest.
"And certainly, we do need a lot more Inuit lawyers in Nunavut and we have to be on par with the rest of Canadians."