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


As demonstrated in this summary report, the three studies into legal services provision in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut identified some similarities in the challenges facing these jurisdictions, but also many differences.

There are differences between the three territories. The most significant of these are in the mandates of the legal services organizations, the legal systems in place in each jurisdiction, and some socio-economic indicators (particularly the percentage of population of Aboriginal/Inuit ancestry and the percentage of individuals who do not speak English as their first language). There are also some similarities among the three territories. The most significant of these are the circuit court structure, the practice of presumed eligibility or "practical delivery," the vast distances between communities, the high rates of crime (particularly violent crime and sexual assault), and the frequent lack of local resources such as remand centres, counselling facilities, and mediation services.

All three studies report that unmet need for legal service provision clearly exists in all sectors examined, although to differing extents in the different jurisdictions. In some cases, this unmet need is the result of lack of representation (for example, in the family and other civil law sector, and with respect to PLEI). In other cases, unmet need was identified as a result of under-representation due to inadequate quality of representation (for example, in JP courts where the courtworkers may not have sufficient or appropriate training). The extent of unmet need reported has a negative impact on all parties to the justice system: the accused and the victim (or the litigants, in the case of family and other civil law matters), the counsel for all parties, the courtworkers, and members of the local community. However, in some cases, it is clear that unmet need affects some groups more than others. For example, lack of representation in the area of family law is felt more severely by women than men and under-representation due to cross-cultural communication issues is felt more severely by people of Aboriginal ancestry than by others.

All three studies also discussed the cost drivers affecting legal service provision in the North. This was an area where the context for legal service delivery had a particularly strong impact (for example, the impact of geography and the circuit court structure on human resource requirements and the cost of service delivery). However, respondents from all three jurisdictions also identified federal and territorial cost drivers, including legislation (for example, the Youth Criminal Justice Act), policies (for example, zero tolerance for spousal assault), and resource allocation between the Crown offices and the legal services boards.

Diverse solutions were presented in each study according to the level and nature of unmet need identified in each jurisdiction. Some common solutions were identified with respect to the need for courtworker training and changes to the method of PLEI delivery, for example.