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



2.1 Quantitative and qualitative methodologies

In responding to the ten issues, the research teams used both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including interviews, focus groups or workshops, the review of documents, and review of files or other sources of statistical information. Some issues were approached using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, while others were more suited to a solely qualitative approach. In the cases where quantitative approaches were used, it became apparent that the quantitative data had limitations - both in terms of availability and appropriateness to the task at hand (for more on limitations and challenges, see subsection 2.2). Therefore, qualitative information was used extensively to answer all of the questions, including those where a quantitative approach was also attempted. The two research teams co-ordinated their initial methodological approaches (in particular, the basic interview questions) in order to improve the comparability of results.

Table 2.1 summarizes the methodologies used by the research teams.

Table 2.1 - Summary of Research Methodologies
Jurisdiction Qualitative Quantitative (incl. Document Review)
Northwest Territories 87 interviews 1 focus group
Nunavut 58 interviews 2 workshops
Yukon 53 interviews 1 focus group

A wide range of individuals were interviewed by the research teams, including staff counsel, private bar lawyers, legal services board members and executives, judges, justices of the peace, RCMP officers, courtworkers, Crown counsel, representatives of the territorial justice departments, and others representing social agencies and Aboriginal organizations. In Nunavut, some clients of the NLSB were interviewed in lieu of conducting two additional focus groups.

2.2 Methodological limitations and challenges

The research teams experienced some challenges in gathering information. These challenges give rise to limitations with respect to the data:

Quantitative data

In the N.W.T. and the Yukon, the statistical data made available to the research team was not gathered specifically to answer the questions posed by Justice Canada and, in some cases, the data available was incomplete. In Nunavut, there were no electronic databases or records available from which to retrieve quantitative data. Therefore, all data was manually retrieved through the review of files at the LSB and NLSB offices. In the Yukon, some data was compiled manually as well. As a result of these differences, the quantitative data gathered by the three research studies is not, in most cases, directly comparable.

Qualitative data

In the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, no clients were interviewed during the research process. In Nunavut, the high degree of interaction and interdependence among all components of the legal system made it difficult, at times, to isolate qualitative information on legal service provision exclusively.

As a result of these methodological challenges, this summary document relies significantly on the qualitative research results. Quantitative information has been included only where deemed to be comparable.

2.3 Assessing unmet need

Several of the questions posed by Justice Canada required the research teams to assess the extent of unmet need for legal services in particular areas (for example, in Justice of the Peace courts or with respect to public legal education and information). Through the course of the research, a number of issues became apparent that affected the way in which unmet need is described in the research results and the reliability of the estimates of unmet need made by the research teams. In particular:

Defining unmet need

Respondents appeared to understand and define the concept of unmet need in two different ways. Some respondents defined unmet need as a lack of service. For example, if an accused is unrepresented in circuit court because there is no counsel available to provide representation, that would be recognized as unmet need. Other respondents added a second definition of unmet need. They felt that, in some cases, the quality of the service being provided to the accused is lacking to the point where the accused is under-represented. These respondents felt that under-representation due to low-quality service also constitutes unmet need. As a result, in this summary document, a distinction has been made between unmet need due to lack of representation and unmet need due to under-representation.

Quantitative information on unmet need

A significant issue emerged with respect to measuring the extent of unmet need using quantitative information on legal aid applications. The research teams originally planned to measure unmet need by looking at the number of legal aid applications that were denied. However, it was made clear to the researchers during the interviews and workshops that many individuals who might require legal aid assistance may not believe those services to be available and, therefore, may not complete a legal aid application. The area of family and other civil law was frequently cited as one where many individuals are not aware that services are available. As a result, there is a strong likelihood that the extent of unmet need, as measured using data on legal aid applications denied, is underestimated.

Qualitative information on unmet need

Information on the extent of unmet need was also gathered through the interview and workshop processes. As is noted above, respondents felt that the extent of unmet need is greater than is shown using quantitative research methods. However, it should also be noted that interviewees may not have been aware of the true extent of unmet need in a particular area and, therefore, that the qualitative estimates of unmet need resulting from the research may also underestimate the true extent of unmet need for legal services in the three northern jurisdictions.