Nunavut Legal Services Study


The role of the Nunavut Legal Services Board (NLSB) is to:

  1. Provide criminal, family, and civil legal aid in Nunavut.
  2. Manage the Courtworker program.
  3. Provide public legal education and information (PLEI).

The NLSB is mandated to fulfill these roles to the best of its abilities, given the circumstances in which it is working.

The NLSB plays a particularly important role in Nunavut, as compared with the roles of other legal services providers in other provinces and territories. The vast majority of the population of the territory is absolutely dependent on the NLSB for legal representation, due to the shortage of private lawyers. Also, for civil or criminal clients, the overwhelming majority of whom are Inuit, Inuit Courtworkers are vital in ensuring that there is communication and cultural sensitivity in the provision of legal services.

Furthermore, the problem of demand for legal services in Nunavut is compounded by the social and demographic characteristics of the territory's population, which is relatively young, rapidly increasing, undereducated, isolated, and suffering severely from social problems resulting from cultural dislocation.

Based on the interviews, document review, file-based research, workshops, and client interviews conducted by the research team, it is clear that:

  • The level of unmet need for legal aid services is very high in Nunavut.
  • Unmet need for legal aid is having a significantly negative effect on all parties involved: the accused, the victim, community members, NLSB staff, and the Nunavut legal system as a whole.
  • Unmet family and civil law needs are especially critical in Nunavut, where there are few employers (most are public sector), housing is scarce, and there is pressure on victims not to report violence, not to proceed with cases once they have been reported, and/or not to leave potentially violent family situations.
  • Demand for legal services will increase in the future as the population becomes more aware of their legal rights (potentially through additional PLEI initiatives) and increasing numbers of children come to an age where they can be charged as young offenders and young offenders move into the young adult age group in which crime rates are highest.
  • Courtworkers play a very significant role in the smooth functioning of the Nunavut legal system.
  • The role of Courtworkers is likely to expand in tandem with the role of JP courts, as well as through other efforts now under way to make the justice system more responsive, innovative and reflective of traditional values.
  • The role of Courtworkers is also likely to change and expand as a result of new legislation and increased focus on community-based justice initiatives and programs.
  • Courtworkers are not adequately prepared, either through training or through infrastructure (officers, phone lines, equipment, etc.) to take on this expanded role or, in many cases, to manage the pressures currently being put upon them.
  • There is strong support for the existing model for delivery of legal aid services, which has evolved over more than 25 years. Its strengths are its decentralized presence in all of Nunavut's regions, including the High Arctic, and its significant involvement of Inuit in governance at the territorial and regional levels.
  • PLEI is sorely lacking in Nunavut, despite a well-articulated understanding of the value of such initiatives.

The research also makes it clear that the quality and pattern of legal services delivery in Nunavut, as well as the costs associated with delivering those services, are greatly affected by several factors:

  • The structure of the Nunavut legal system (circuit courts, JP courts, and the NCJ).
  • Geographic concerns (distance, climate, etc.).
  • Socio-economic issues (educational level, youth of the population, employment issues, and infrastructure issues).
  • Cultural issues (language, different ways of reacting to authority, etc.).
  • Political decisions (such as the commitment to decentralize Government of Nunavut departments).
  • The scarcity of human resources in Nunavut in general.
  • The shortage of private lawyers and staff legal aid lawyers in Nunavut.
  • The legislation, policies, and resource allocation decisions of the federal government.

Unfortunately, the effect of these factors is primarily negative: they contribute to increased demand, difficulties in providing high quality services, and to the cost of providing those services. While the current legal services delivery system is effective, it is struggling with inadequate resources.

Therefore, in order to address the high level of unmet need for legal services in Nunavut and the effects of the above factors, the research team has identified proposed solutions:

  • The proposed solutions relating to the Nunavut Legal Services Board focus primarily on the need to ensure adequate funding for a wide range of improvements to the NLSB's human resource capacity, in order to address unmet need for services.
  • The proposed solutions relating to the broader Nunavut justice system focus on addressing those issues that, while not specifically related to the NLSB, nonetheless have a significant impact on the functioning of that organization as a result of the high degree of interrelatedness between the various parts of the Nunavut justice system.

The Nunavut Legal Services Study has shown the way ahead as to how a rejuvenated legal services system could transform the justice system in Nunavut. Aboriginal Courtworkers, working closely and collegially with adequate numbers of professional lawyers, could become linchpins in maximizing the responsiveness and efficiency of the system. Courtworkers representing clients before Aboriginal Justices of the Peace could also relieve stresses now being felt by the Nunavut justice system - an overworked Nunavut Court of Justice, overworked lawyers and prosecutors and underutilized Justice of the Peace courts. Relieving these day-to-day pressures will also allow the Nunavut justice system to respond to the growing momentum and demand for alternative community-based justice initiatives. Also, with enhanced public legal education and information, the Nunavut public, more aware of their rights, opportunities for self-help, and responsibilities under the justice system, will have more equality and access to justice. With this increased support, the Nunavut legal services system could become a successful model of accessibility, responsiveness and inclusiveness for remote rural and Aboriginal communities in Canada.

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