Nunavut law school program loses funding

The Nunavut government is refusing to give more than $5 million of core funding to the Akitsiraq Law Program to train more Inuit lawyers in the territory.

The Nunavut government will not give $5 million of core funding to the Akitsiraq Law Program to train more Inuit lawyers in the territory.

The society recently received a letter from Justice Minister Keith Peterson, saying the program will not be getting the the $5.1 million it needs over six years to hold a second round of law school courses for 25 aspiring lawyers.

The program had requested $3.57 million in territorial funding over six years, or 70 per cent of its required core funding.

"I actually had this small hope that it might actually say something positive, and I was upset," Anne Crawford, the program's northern director, said of the minister's letter.

"We had a board meeting. You go through that, and you have to deliver that news to students, some students who have invested very strongly."

The Akitsiraq program has teamed up with universities in southern Canada to offer a law degree program to Inuit who want to become lawyers but don't want to leave Nunavut for school.

Eleven students from the program's first round graduated in June 2005, and most of them have since been called to the Nunavut bar.

Fiscal challenges cited

Organizers had planned to launch the second round of courses, with 25 students enrolled, in September 2011.

Peterson would not comment on why he has halted funding for the Akitsiraq program, but his letter to Crawford indicated that Nunavut is "dealing with serious fiscal challenges" and "does not have the resources" to meet the society's needs.

"In a time of limited resources, our focus is on improving our school system from kindergarten to Grade 12," Peterson's letter states in part.

"Nunavummiut need to be well prepared so that they can successfully engage in a wide variety of post-secondary programs such as accounting, nursing, engineering and other professions of their choice, including law."

Peterson also cited growing support for a proposed pan-territorial "University of the North" that, if created, could provide courses such as the Akitsiraq program.

New projects put on hold: MLA

Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott, who has usually criticized cuts to program funding, said the territorial government's efforts to recover $60 million in cost overruns at the Nunavut Housing Trust has put all sorts of spending under the microscope.

"It's a lot of money, especially when you've got a budget as tight as we have, when we've had trying to find money in different areas," Elliott said.

"Any new projects have sort of been put on hold."

The $5.1 million that the Akitsiraq program requested is the around same amount the program required the first time around.

That averaged out in the last round to about $460,000 for each of the 11 students who graduated.

"You have to invest in your future. You have to invest in young people, you have to invest in education. That's where the payoff comes," Crawford said.

Crawford has asked Peterson for a meeting, but he has has not agreed to a meeting to date. The Akitsiraq program may need to raise private funds in order to start the second round of courses next year.