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Nunavut law program continues to grow strong despite some challenges

The territories' only law school program is chugging along two years after launching at Nunavut Arctic College.

The college, in partnership with the University of Saskatchewan, College of Law offered a one-time four-year law program in September 2017.

On July 28, 2019 the government of Canada promised $341,600 in funds over the next two years for this Iqaluit-based law program.

Pascal MacLellan and Nuka Olsen-Hakongak are both law students at the Nunavut law program. photo by Bruce Morgan

Stephen Mansell, Northern director of the Nunavut Law Program, confirmed the funds are being received and used for traditional law and cultural activities.

The funds will allow the law students the opportunity to receive hands-on legal experience in some experiential courses and programs.

According to the program director, the "biggest" advantage of the law program is the ability for students to remain in Nunavut.

"Many of our students have families which would have made attending a southern law school very difficult. Being able to stay in the territory provides students the ability to learn in an environment closer to family, friends, culture and language," said Mansell.

Nuka Olsen-Hakongak, a law student from Cambridge Bay, agrees that studying in Nunavut is the best aspect of this program. "It's hard being away from cultural norms and family," said Olsen-Hakongak.

Another law student, Pascal MacLellan, said he had no interest in uprooting despite his desire to pursue law school.

"When this program popped up, it was the perfect opportunity," explained MacLellan. Having "world-class" professors from across Canada and United States teaching the law courses is also another plus for MacLellan.

"For them (professors) to come up here and teach us, it's a great opportunity," said MacLellan.

Initially 25 students enrolled in this law program.

"We are extremely pleased with our retention rate which is 92 per cent. This rate matches or exceeds that of any law school in southern Canada," said Mansell.

Weather challenges for class

However, having a law school in Nunavut does come with its challenges, according to the program director. Students miss more classes due to weather compared to students in the south. The students also encounter challenges due to less access to high speed internet and library resources.

Law student MacLellan admits better access to the internet is needed in order to connect with guest speakers through video conferences. Currently, according to both the law students, "condensed" courses are being taught. This means instead of having five courses over a semester, a single course may be taught in a couple of weeks or month. Upon completion, the students move onto the next course.

Even though Pascal recognizes the benefit of focusing on a single subject, he finds the condensed courses challenging.

"It's just hard to digest and then grasp that information and then how to apply it in the next subject," said Pascal.

However despite the challenges, Mansell believes due to the support of Nunavut Arctic College and Nunavut Justice community, the students are provided with a broad curriculum, quality facilities and an excellent faculty. There are make-up class times for classes that have been cancelled due to weather.

The students have a librarian dedicated to helping them with legal research and accessing materials. Additionally, various online databases and library materials loaned from the University of Saskatechwan are available for students.

"We've had a wealth of experienced professors come to teach us and I feel very lucky that they've left their homes in Saskatchewan (to come teach)," said Olsen-Hakongak.
Guest speakers like the current and past Supreme Court judges have also visited the law students, stated Pascal.

Aside from the growing pains and bumps, Mansell is "very" satisfied with the quality of the Nunavut law program. He acknowledges its success primarily to the students dedication to learning and academic achievement.

Mansell did not mention anything about future enrolment possibilities. Instead he responded, "The University of Saskatchewan's College of Law is completely focused on providing the current cohort of excellent students with a top tier legal