Legal Service Provision in Northern Canada
Summary of Research in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon

4. IMPACT OF COURT STRUCTURE, GEOGRAPHY, AND CULTURE ON LEGAL SERVICES DEMAND, PATTERN, AND QUALITY

4. IMPACT OF COURT STRUCTURE, GEOGRAPHY, AND CULTURE ON LEGAL SERVICES DEMAND, PATTERN, AND QUALITY

The demand for legal services, the pattern of service delivery, and the quality of services provided in the northern jurisdictions are affected by a number of different factors, including court structure, geography, and culture. In this section, the commonalities and differences among the jurisdictions are explored with respect to geography and culture. The impacts of court structure are discussed in Section 5.0 (Circuit courts) and Section 7.0 (Justice of the Peace courts). At the end of the section, in 4.3, a table is provided that summarizes the key areas of unmet need resulting from these factors.

4.1 Impact of geography

The impact of geography on service provision appears to be related to the degree of difficulty experienced in accessing communities. Therefore, both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut reported that geography had a significant impact on service provision, while the Yukon did not, and Nunavut reported greater difficulties related to geography than did the Northwest Territories. In these jurisdictions, geography primarily affects the quality of service provision. The distances involved, sometimes severe weather conditions, and lack of scheduled flights into some communities result in:

  • Lack of preparation time.
  • Tight schedules and heavy workloads while in communities.
  • Difficulty accessing some communities (that do not have scheduled flights or are frequently weathered in).
  • Lack of support infrastructure, such as telephones and internet access.
  • Lack of access to appropriate remand facilities. In both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the accused are frequently remanded to either Yellowknife or Iqaluit (for lack of adequate facilities in their home communities), which may result in the accused pleading guilty in order to "get it over with" rather than remain far away from their home community and support base.
  • Lack of access to other resources such as process servers, sheriffs, and expert witnesses.
  • Lack of local programs and services, such as substance abuse counselling or mediation services, that might reduce the demand for legal services.

It should also be noted that geography has a significant impact on the cost of service provision (see Section 12.0) and on the difficulties associated with the circuit court structure (see Section 5.0).

4.2 Impact of culture

The impact of culture, and particularly language, differs fairly significantly among the three jurisdictions. The extent of the impact of culture appears to be related to the composition of the population - jurisdictions with greater Aboriginal populations experience higher impacts from cultural differences. As a result, Nunavut reported the greatest impact from culture, followed by the Northwest Territories, while the Yukon did not report significant impacts from culture. Culture has an impact on the pattern of service delivery, the quality of service delivery, and the demand for service.

Pattern of service delivery

In Nunavut, culture and language have a significant impact on the pattern of service delivery. CWs play an important role in service delivery in order to bridge the cultural and linguistic gaps between counsel and the accused. Interpreters are also used in the courts, and PLEI materials are provided in several languages. The establishment of three regional legal services offices, each with its own Inuit-controlled Board, is also a result of the cultural differences between Nunavut and the other northern territories. In the Northwest Territories and in the Yukon, CWs also play an important bridging role, along with interpreters.

Quality of service delivery

Difficulties in cross-cultural communication are believed to have an impact on the quality of service delivery. The legal system is based on premises that are, to a large extent, foreign to Inuit and Aboriginal culture. As a result, the legal system is not necessarily clearly understood by accused of Aboriginal ancestry, and it is very difficult to translate legal terms into Aboriginal languages. In some cases, as a result of these difficulties in cross-cultural communication, the extent and quality of communication between the accused and counsel may be limited to the point where the accused is under-represented.

Demand for service

In some cases, culture may influence the demand for service. This was noted in particular in Nunavut with respect to demand for family law and other civil law services. Several respondents indicated that Inuit do not resolve these types of problems in an adversarial manner and, therefore, that demand for these services may be low. Other respondents indicated that individuals seeking legal assistance, particularly in family law cases, may be the subject of community pressure not to proceed in this manner. This is an area where demand for service does not necessarily reflect the extent of unmet need because the services available may be considered inappropriate by potential clients. If more culturally appropriate methods of service delivery were in place, it may be that demand would increase because clients would be more willing to make use of those services for family and other civil law matters.

It should also be noted that culture and language have an impact on the cost of service delivery (see Section 12.0).

4.3 Unmet need resulting from geography and culture

Table 4.1 summarizes the extent and nature of unmet need resulting from geography and culture in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon.

Table 4.1 - Unmet Need Resulting from Geography and Culture
Jurisdiction Geography Culture
Northwest Territories Quality of service provision impaired due to access and timeframe constraints. Quality of service provision somewhat impaired because of cultural and linguistic barriers to communication and understanding.
Nunavut Quality of service provision impaired due to access and timeframe constraints. Quality of service provision impaired because of significant cultural and linguistic barriers to communication and understanding.
Yukon Quality of service provision impaired due to access and timeframe constraints, although to a lesser degree than in the N.W.T. and Nunavut due to road access for most communities. No significant effects reported.

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