University of Saskatchewan and Nunavut Arctic College partner for JD program

For the first time in more than a decade, Nunavut Arctic College will be offering a law degree program in Iqaluit.

Through a partnership with the University of Saskatchewan outlining a five-year fixed-term contract, the university’s faculty of law will graduate up to 25 law students.

“We have over 40 years of experience and commitment to delivering legal education to Canada’s indigenous people, so this is an absolutely natural progression for us,” says Martin Phillipson, dean of law at the University of Saskatchewan. “Our university has made it quite clear that indigenization is going to be one of the major goals of our college and our university to comply with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so this absolutely fits with our historical commitment to aboriginal legal education.”

The design and delivery of the program will be the responsibility of the university, and Phillipson says the four-year academic program will be broken down into a year of pre-law — a foundation year — and a three-year JD program, followed by one year of co-op or articling to ensure the students are ready to practise law.

Faculty will travel to Nunavut to teach the students in Iqaluit and, while U of S professors will do “the lion’s share” of the teaching, Phillipson says he aims to recruit faculty from across the country to build “an A-team” to deliver a high-quality legal education.

Phillipson says he’s already had professors reach out to him, interested in the opportunity to teach the program. He notes that when the college partnered with the University of Victoria for a similar law program in 2001 that saw 11 law students graduate, faculty from various law schools across Canada taught the courses. 

“That’s clearly a model I’d like to replicate,” he says. “I want faculty from other schools who are interested and committed to indigenous education to have a role in the program if they want.”

As for the admissions process, grade 12 will be a prerequisite, but further post-secondary experience isn’t needed.

“The things that we’ll be looking for will be character references, writing skills and life experience,” Phillipson says.

He stresses that while the admissions process — which is still being hammered out with Arctic College — might look different from some other Canadian law schools, including not having an LSAT requirement, it’s no less rigorous.

As for funding, students will have access to the same help as any other sort of student in Nunavut would have for post-secondary education, and they will also be able to apply for funds from the University of Saskatchewan as any other law student would.

Phillipson says the schools will likely start the admissions process in October, with classes beginning in September 2017.

The hope is that the program will “increase the number of practising lawyers in Nunavut, while also meeting Sivumut Abluqta’s education priority to deliver relevant programming to meet the needs of Nunavummiut,” said a statement on the University of Saskatchewan’s web site. Sivumiut Abluqta: Stepping Forward Together is a four-part mandate from the Nunavut government. One of the four priorities is self-reliance and optimism through education and training.

With this new law program on offer, students at Arctic College can stay in their home territory of Nunavut and participate in three degree-granting programs in partnership with universities, including a bachelor of science in nursing in collaboration with Dalhousie University in Halifax and the teacher education program in partnership with the University of Regina.

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