The Nunavut Court of Justice and the Supreme Court of Canada were on hand to welcome the territory's law class of 2021 at a ceremony Sept. 11 before a full house of friends, family and law professionals.
Law-program director and lecturer Stephen Mansell, himself a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan's College of Law, emceed. The program was capped with officials draping a gown over each student – a ceremonial act that came after the student recited an oath. The oath concludes with a commitment to share their knowledge and skills acquired through the study of law by positively contributing to society.
Nunavut's Senior Justice Neil Sharkey, also a University of Saskatchewan law graduate, was visibly moved by the 25 students assembled before him at Cadet Hall in Iqaluit. He noted part of the students' new adventure would be easy – the 25 were chosen from 86 applicants and are clearly skilled – "but parts of it will be hell on wheels," he said.
"At those times … watch out for each other. Look out for each other. Help each other. You are not in competition with each other," he told them.
Dean Martin Phillipson spoke of the College of Law's longstanding commitment to Indigenous legal education – 45 years of its 105 years – noting one of his predecessors, "whose commitment to social justice but, more importantly, a vision of a legal profession that included Indigenous people" forged the way in Canada. The Native Law Centre of Canada was founded in 1975 at the University of Saskatchewan.
The 25 students' program will incorporate Inuit traditional justice into the regular course of studies.
Supreme Court of Canada Justice Suzanne Cote – the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court directly from private practice – had a special message for the students.
Saying she came from the Gaspe Peninsula, another region where people have had to fight for their lives, she offered greetings from the Supreme Court.
"Also to meet, among the students, who is to be the next Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in ten years from now, or maybe I should say 14 years from now," she said.
After the ceremony, Aaju Peter, a graduate of Akitsiraq Law School in 2005, remembered exactly how hard the four-year law program could be – that's why she approached the Nunavut Arctic College/University of Saskatchewan College of Law partners to offer her help.
Peter takes on the role of cultural advisor and lecturer, alongside the team of Mansell, professor Wendy Parkes, professor Benjamin Ralston, and law librarian Serena Ableson.
David Lawson – known to many in the territory as an RCMP officer – told Nunavut News/North after the ceremony that he was excited for the next four years.
"It's going to be completely different than what I've been used to in the last 15 years as a cop. It's a decision I made a long time ago that it was something I wanted to do, and it's finally happening," said Lawson.
He also said he feels he'll be well-supported by the university and Arctic College.
"And my family. They've been backing me up all this time."
Nuka Olsen-Hakongak of Cambridge Bay comes to the law program fresh from completing a social services diploma. She feels her social services background and the law is a good combination.
"I think it's a lovely combination to have to work in Nunavut. My goal right now is to practice law in the territory," she said.
Sharkey, in his speech, noted there are a variety of careers available to law school graduates, all fields where the students can make a difference.
"Yes, of course, careers in law in private or public practice, but also as high-level civil servants, political leaders, social activists, academics, entrepreneurs and artists," he said.
"I look forward to seeing you over the next four years from time to time and, after that, witnessing the flourishing career paths each of you choose."