23-year-old father from Gjoa Haven called to the Nunavut bar

By April Hudson – CBC News · Apr 07, 2023

On the really tough days, when James Takkiruq felt like quitting law school, he’d look over at his five-year-old son and remember why he had to keep going.

“He was a big support,” said Takkiruq, recalling the four years he spent going through the Nunavut Law Program in Iqaluit. “I wouldn’t have been able to make it here without [that] support.”

He was the youngest member of the 25-person cohort to go through that program — 17 years old when he started. He graduated, along with 21 of his fellow students, last October in Iqaluit.

Now 23, Takkiruq was called to the bar on March 29. He arrived with his young son and his family by his side.

“If you think age matters, it doesn’t really. As long as you have the knowledge, as long as you’re confident in yourself and that you have people around you, that’s the important part,” said Takkiruq, who is from Gjoa Haven and who has spent the past six years in Iqaluit.

“Throughout any type of studies, there are moments where you want to quit — so badly, you want to quit! I know I had a few of those moments. But you look around and you have people there looking up to you. You have people there looking out for you.”

A man speaks into a microphone at a lectern.
Jamie Takkiruq at his call to the bar on March 29. (Submitted by Jessica Shabtai)

It wasn’t until his second year that Takkiruq knew for sure he wanted to be a lawyer.

“As we were doing our studying, our reading and exams, I started realizing, you know — this is really interesting,” he said.

“It was sometime around that period where I started realizing, I could make this my career. I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life.”

‘An amazing success story’

The Nunavut Law Program was a four-year program run by the University of Saskatchewan in partnership with Nunavut Arctic College. For its first three years, Stephen Mansell was the program’s executive director.

Now the deputy minister of Justice, Mansell described the program as one of the “highlights of [his] professional career.”

“When we started, we were all nervous — the faculty, the directors and the students. And we came together as a team with the goal of getting as many graduates as we can, and as many practising lawyers as we can,” he said.

Group photo in front of flagpoles.
Students and staff with the Nunavut Law program pose for a photo in downtown Iqaluit in 2017, the year this program was formally launched. Stephen Mansell is shown at right. (Nunavut Law Program-Benjamin Ralston/The Canadian Press)

The program has only run once. By the end, it added 22 law graduates to Nunavut’s pool of potential lawyers, most of them Inuit and many from Nunavut’s smaller communities.

The focus now is on getting all the graduates called to the bar, Mansell said, to join about 75 other lawyers who live in the territory — then, they might gauge interest in putting another cohort through the program.

He said those who haven’t been called to the bar yet are articling at different legal firms or have gone on to do work with governments and Inuit organizations.

“Most of our large employers in the territory now have Nunavut Law Program graduates contributing. It’s been an amazing success story.”

A portrait of a man in an office.
Stephen Mansell, the deputy minister of Justice, says directing the Nunavut Law Program was one of the highlights of his career. (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

As for Takkiruq, Mansell said he’s proud to see what the young law graduate has accomplished.

“I can tell you that I wouldn’t have been ready for law school at 17,” he said. 

“The fact that Jamie took that leap so young and has had the success that he had is really a testament to his internal drive and just what a great person he is.”

Takkiruq said he’s currently the judicial law clerk for the Nunavut Court of Justice, but he already has a vision for what he wants to do in the future.

“I want to do small business work, because I know a lot of people in Nunavut, they have ideas for small businesses and sometimes getting things started up could be challenging, especially if you don’t have the know-how for the technical areas,” he said.

“That’s something I’d like to do, is just help people, I guess.”

Written by April Hudson with files from Jody Ningeocheak and Sara Minogue