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Nunavut-based law program on track to return next year

The Nunavut government says it is on track to deliver a degree-granting law program beginning September 2017, more than a decade after 11 students graduated from the four-year Akitsiraq program.

'We need more lawyers,' says MLA Paul Okalik, who vows to ensure government follows through on promise

Paul Quassa, Nunavut's minister responsible for Nunavut Arctic College, says he hopes to see 25 students start a law program in the territory next fall. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Nunavut's Minister responsible for Nunavut Arctic College, Paul Quassa, says the government is on track to deliver a degree-granting law program beginning September 2017 — more than a decade after 11 students graduated from the four-year Akitsiraq program.

Last June, Nellie Kusugak promised the law program would restart in her commissioner's address, which is equivalent to a throne speech in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly. Now, the government is solidifying a timeline. 

"I know there's a lot of interest out there," said Quassa, who hopes 25 students will complete the program.

"We need to still get an approval of the actual budget by winter 2017 and then we hope to start the program delivery by September 2017."

Representatives of the territorial justice department, Nunavut Arctic College and the Law Society of Nunavut will soon meet to evaluate proposals from two southern universities who hope to administer the program: the University of Victoria (which delivered the first Akitsiraq program) and the University of Ottawa. 

'We'll make sure it happens'

Of the 11 people who graduated from the Akitsiraq law program in 2005, many still work in the field and in Nunavut, either at Inuit organizations or the government, says Quassa. 

"It was something which was very successful and I know this will be too," he said. 

In 2010, the Nunavut government said it would not provide $5 million in core funding for a second Akitsiraq program. 

'I look forward to very good students attending the program so they can become lawyers and live a dream,' says lawyer and Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

This time, Paul Okalik, the MLA for Iqaluit-Sinaa and a trained lawyer, says he's confident the government will come through. 

"We'll make sure it happens," he said. "We committed to 2017." 

More professional Inuit

Both Quassa and Okalik say the last program was a huge success – not only in its graduating class, but in showing young Inuit they have choices. 

"I never thought I could become a lawyer, but after much work I'm living my dream," said Okalik. "I'd like to see more Inuit live their dreams and represent us."

He says legal training promotes critical thinking and academic rigour, which can translate into other challenging fields of work.

"That's our goal is to work towards, not just jobs at the labour stage, but to have real professions," said Quassa. 

"We're always looking forward to having professional Inuit working in fields like nursing or our law program."

'A whole new area of law'

The new law program will also once again place an emphasis on incorporating traditional law and knowledge from elders, while promoting the need for more legal experts fluent in an Inuit language. 

"We are supposed to be a trilingual jurisdiction, and we can't even write our laws in Inuktitut, because we don't have Inuktitut speaking lawyers to assist us in drafting," said Okalik. 

He says he looks forward to the day when judges will need to analyze the meaning of laws written in Inuktitut. 

"It could open up a whole new area of law."

While both Nunavut lawmakers tauted the success of the Akitsiraq program, some were less convinced that the program was worth the expense given that some graduates are no longer working in the field. 

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