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



The three jurisdictions identified many cost drivers associated with legal service provision in the North. Some of these were common to all of the territories, while others were raised by only one or two of the three jurisdictions.

12.1 Common cost drivers

The common cost drivers identified by respondents were:


Geography was identified as a key cost driver, particularly with respect to the circuit court structure. The difficulty of accessing many communities across the North results in high costs for travel and accommodation for counsel, for flying in expert witnesses, etc. Geography also results in long hours for staff on circuit court trips, which increases the need for human resources and, therefore, costs of service provision. The remote and widely dispersed nature of northern communities also adds to the cost of PLEI provision and to the cost of training for CWs and other staff.

Socio-economic issues

As shown in subsection 3.1, the northern jurisdictions share a number of socio-economic characteristics that greatly increase demand for legal services and, therefore, the cost of providing those services. Among these challenges are alcohol abuse; FAS/E; a high overall incidence of crime, particularly assault and sexual assault; and, in the N.W.T. and the Yukon, residential school syndrome.

Human resources and administration

The cost of recruiting and retaining staff is extremely high in the North and the recruitment process often requires several attempts before a successful candidate is found. The administrative and overhead costs associated with running legal services organizations is also higher than in the rest of Canada.

12.2 Other cost drivers

Other cost drivers identified by respondents include the following.

  • Lack of options with respect to family law - This issue was raised in the Northwest Territories, where respondents felt it led to a high dependence on litigation, the most expensive option. Although the issue was not specifically raised in Nunavut, a similar lack of alternatives, such as mediation services, is a concern in that territory.
  • High rates of unemployment and seasonal employment - This issue was raised in the Yukon, and was felt to increase the percentage of the population financially eligible for legal aid services and, therefore, the cost of service provision. Nunavut also has a high level of unemployment and underemployment.18 The presumed eligibility practice is a response to the resulting very high rates of financial eligibility.
  • Addressing Aboriginal needs - The ongoing impact of self-government negotiations was raised as a potential cost driver by respondents in the Yukon. In Nunavut, costs associated with addressing Aboriginal needs were also reported. For example, there is a formal requirement for Inuit participation in the management of the NLSB, which results in the maintenance of four Board structures (one for the NLSB and one each for the three regional clinics). Also in Nunavut, there is an ongoing need for cultural and linguistic interpretation in order to provide an adequate level of service to the majority of the population of the territory, which adds to the cost of service provision.
  • A high percentage of trials by jury (75 percent of trials between January 1, 2000 and June 30, 2002), as opposed to trials by judge alone, was raised in the N.W.T. Trials by jury were felt to be more expensive than trials by judge alone.
  • The number of unrepresented litigants in civil law cases, which increases the number of adjournments and court appearances, was raised in the Yukon.
  • The requirement for decentralization of government services, which results in the NLSB headquarters being located in Gjoa Haven, was raised in Nunavut.

Respondents also indicated that federal and territorial legislation and policies have a significant impact on the cost of service provision. These are discussed in more detail in Section 13.

18 The average unemployment rate in Nunavut was 17.4 percent in 1999. Justice Canada, Research and Statistics Division, Nunavut Community Profiles (draft), August 2000.

Date modified: