Lack of staff forces legal aid closure in Inuit region of Arctic Quebec

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The Legal Aid office in Kuujjuaq, Quebec. Recruitment challenges are forcing the office to be relocated 1300 kilometres away to the city of Val-d’Or in southern Quebec. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
The legal aide office in Kuujjuaq, the administrative capital of the Inuit region of Nunavik, Quebec, will be temporarily shut down in March after an inability to recruit staff for vacant positions.

Nunavik’s sole Kuujjuaq-based legal aid lawyer, Valérie Bergeron-Boutin, will be leaving her position on March 15 and a replacement still hasn’t been found.

The legal aide office has also been searching for months to fill the vacant post of secretary, but hasn’t found anyone willing to relocate to Kuujjuaq, the Community Legal Centre of Abitibi-Témiscamingue told Eye on the Arctic on Thursday.

The region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue is located in southwestern Quebec but the legal bodies there are also responsible for Nunavik.

“Recruitment is such an issue,”  Nathalie Samson, the director general of the Centre told Eye on the Arctic in a phone interview on Thursday. “We just don’t have the applicants that want to relocate.”

Office moving over a thousand kilometres away

Samson said the Centre is committed to re-opening the Kuujjuaq office when they’re able, but in the meantime, the Nunavik legal-aide position will be temporarily transferred to the community of Val-d’Or, some 1300km southwest of Kuujjuaq, as of March 18.

“Our first priority is to make sure that we can deliver our services to the public,” Samson said.  “Second, is to work on solutions to the recruitment challenges so we can offer again those services to the public, but based in Kuujjuaq.”

Makivik Corporation, the organization that represents he political interests of Nunavik Inuit, and the Kativik Regional Government, the body that administrates Nunavik, did not respond to requests for comment before deadline on how the legal aide closure might affect clients in Nunavik.

There are no resident judges in Nunavik, a region with a population of around 13,000 people.

The region’s 14 communities are served by an itinerant court from southern Quebec that visits communities an average of two to four times a year depending on the weather.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Death in the Arctic – The Court, Eye on the Arctic special report

Finland: Police in Northern Finland overstretched, says retiring officer, Yle News

Sweden: Cross-border Nordic policing would better serve Arctic: politician, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska’s crime rates are soaring, stats show, Alaska Public Media

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Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic circumpolar news project. At Eye on the Arctic, Eilís has produced documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the circumpolar world. Her documentary Bridging the Divide was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards. Eilís began reporting on the North in 2001. Her work as a reporter in Canada and the United States, and as TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China" has taken her to some of the world’s coldest regions including the Tibetan mountains, Greenland and Alaska; along with the Arctic regions of Canada, Russia, Norway and Iceland.

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