Skip to content

Nunavut: Canada’s Highest Lawyer

For five of my twelve years here in Canada’s Arctic I was, by a very wide margin, ‘Canada’s Highest Lawyer’. Having trumpeted that fact, however, I should hasten to add that the impressive sounding title had nothing whatsoever to do with skill, ability, or even my standing in the profession, but rather came about as a pure accident of latitudinal geography…

After working for two years as a staff lawyer at Maliiganik Tukisiinaiakvik, the Legal Aid office in Iqaluit, I accepted a posting to the High Arctic branch office in the little community of Pond Inlet at the north end of Baffin Island. Pond Inlet is the fourth most northerly community in Canada and, at 72 degrees, 41 minutes north latitude, that meant that I was the most northerly practicing lawyer, not only in Canada, but on the whole continent. As I was all by myself, professionally speaking, it also meant that there were no other lawyers within a 1300 kilometer radius; a density of legal professionals that would no doubt please most people…

Legal Aid provided me with a pretty nice little house down on the shore. The picture you see above would have been taken in March, or possibly April, and the sea remains frozen up there until late July or August. During the three months or so that it is ice-free however, my wife and I were close enough to be able to hear the waves breaking on the beach when we were in bed. You can probably see, in the picture, that the power lines to our house are thickly coated in frost. Pond Inlet gets very little wind except in early November and mid-March so, during the deepest part of the winter, the whole town, especially telephone poles and fences, takes on a lovely, soft, fuzzy look.

I did a lot of my work from my house while in Pond Inlet, but I was also provided with an office for meeting clients. The house you see above, only 200 yards from my residence, was my office for the last two years of my stay. For the first three years, I worked out of a little blue trailer beside the airstrip fence that was bitterly cold and without working plumbing for almost the whole of my occupancy. This wasn’t a terrible difficulty most of the time but it did mean that, on occasion, I was reduced to peeing in pop-cans and then disposing of them later. Not an ideal situation, I grant you but I suppose, from the point of view of maintaining my professional standing in the community, it was better than simply doing it through the window.

Then, as now, most of my work consisted mostly of flying to various communities for the scheduled Court circuits. The High Arctic branch office covered the hamlets of Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Igloolik, Hall Beach, Arctic Bay, Resolute and Grise Fiord but I also travelled elsewhere from time to time. When I left Pond Inlet (and my employment with Legal Aid), it was decided that the branch office should be closed because, other than Pond Inlet itself, it was no easier or cheaper to serve the other communities from up there than it was from the head office in Iqaluit. Indeed, to get to Arctic Bay, a mere few hundred kilometers to the west, It was necessary for me to fly 1300 kilometers south to Iqaluit, spend a night at a hotel, and then fly 1300 kilometers north again the next day! Hardly a cost-saving proposition…

A lot of flying is done aboard small aircraft chartered by the Court. The general practice is for the defense lawyers and prosecutors to fly in to a given community a day or two ahead of the Court to interview clients and witnesses. My flights into the communities are thus usually on larger, more comfortable commercial planes).  Afterwards, though, the court party usually travels together, either to the next community, or directly home again in the case of single community circuits.

Once in the communities, travel is a little more… well, haphazard. Often, the police provide rides but it is not uncommon to arrive at an airport several kilometers from town with out any transportation laid on. One time, quite a few years ago, the Court party was picked up at Clyde River airport by a single police vehicle and two tiny pick-up trucks driven by locals. I rode into town a freezing 3 kilometers in the back of one of these and discovered, after I brushed away some snow, that I was sitting on a pile of frozen dead seals.

By the way, the inadequately dressed fellow crouching at the feet of your truly in the above picture is Malcolm Kempt, another defense lawyer. He also writes a blog, called I love you, 2012, in which he describes, amongst other things, some of his experiences here in the north. It is well worth a visit…

The accommodations in some places we visit are often a cut or two below palatial. The rule, when you check into a northern hotel is that you rent a bed and not a room. Bathrooms are very often communal and it is not uncommon to have to share your sleeping space as well. Thankfully, I mostly have only had to double up with members of the court party who I already know, but at times I have had to bunk with strangers. I should add, though, that in the twelve years since I first started doing circuit work, the conditions in many hotels have improved enormously, but it is still possible to stay at places where you run out of water, have staff not show up to cook meals, or (as was the case on my last trip), bake in eighty degree heat because the thermostat is broken and the windows won’t open.

On the subject of facilities in the north… the above picture (I kid you not) shows my ‘office’ whilst Court was in session in Igloolik a few weeks ago. Having to interview clients in hallways, staircases or police vehicles does little to enhance the job but on the bright side, the toilet in the Igloolik Community Hall, though smelly, was at least warm… Some years ago, while in Cape Dorset, we were supposed to have access to the Hunters and Trappers Organization office to meet people before the Court arrived but, unfortunately, the person with the key had left town without making it available to us. Accordingly, since everybody had been told to meet us at that particular office, I, and the young law student who was assisting me that week, spent two days in the snow outside the building conducting interviews. We were dressed warmly enough as it happened but, being winter, the ink in our pens kept on freezing, making note-taking just a little bit tricky, to say the least.

All hardships aside, travelling with the same group of people to community after community ultimately makes the work something more than just a job, and the sense of team-work (which is an absolute necessity up here), really makes it all worthwhile.

And… perhaps best of all, the scenery we get to see while flying from place to place is absolutely spectacular.

Anyway, I hope my readers will enjoy this brief introduction to Nunavut, and the joys of circuit travel across the Arctic. I have had quite a few encouraging comments on the subject so far, and, is people are still interested, I plan to take a closer look at some of the communities and share a few of my adventures in future posts…


33 Comments Post a comment
  1. Interesting.

    June 20, 2012
  2. Great pictures.

    June 20, 2012
  3. What a fascinating post! Travel to the Canadian Arctic is high on my list for the near future – thank you for providing such a great amount of detail! And congratulations on your Most Highest distinction!

    June 20, 2012
  4. Thanks for sharing this. So interesting! As a member of the bar, I can say unequivocally that the thought of “no other lawyers within a 1300 kilometer radius” is a happy thought indeed. Please do share your future adventures. And, if I might ask, what brought you there in the first place?

    June 20, 2012
    • Economics and a desire for a bit of adventure brought us up here, I guess. I practiced law in New Brunswick for ten years but it is all but impossible to practice criminal law down there without also doing other stuff (real-estate, family, etc)… all stuff I hated, basically. Up here I have dome nothing but criminal work (prosecution and defence) for the last twelve years. Suits me much better and I like the relative informality…. what sort of practice do you have?

      June 20, 2012
      • Spent most of my career at a big firm. Now have a small boutique litigation firm. (Yay—I seldom have to dress up!) We represent mostly local governments, insurers and some corporations. The good thing is: I know nothing practical. Makes it easy to turn family members and friends down!

        June 20, 2012
  5. I was cold just reading through your post. It’s fascinating!

    June 20, 2012
  6. baconbiscuit212 #

    Really fascinating! I have to admit that I have been really curious about what it was like to work and live so far north. This definitely satisfies some curiosity, but my interest is piqued for more! The furthest north I have been? The Arctic Circle in Finland for an art show. Long story! But I remember it being really cold. I went in March, so it was apparently warmer than what it was. I think I smoked tons of cigarettes just for the fire! Blech! But it was warm!

    June 20, 2012
    • You can tell the hard-core smokers up here … huddled outside when it is -50 in the wind.

      June 20, 2012
  7. Incredibly interesting. Loved all the details! Please do write some more…

    June 20, 2012
  8. Hi,
    Loved the post, a very interesting read, and great photos. I don’t think I would be able to handle such cold weather, good on you. 🙂

    June 20, 2012
    • The cold is surprisingly easy to get used to due to the lack of humidity. On our first Christmas with family down south, my wife and I left home at -30 where we were perfectly comfortable. We arrived in New Brunswick where it was only -2 and were freezing! The damp cold really gets into your bones 😦

      June 20, 2012
  9. Fascinating! What type of cases do you work on?

    June 20, 2012
    • Criminal only… haven’t done anything else for 12 years.

      June 20, 2012
      • I would think there would not be much crime where you live – guess people get bored in the long winter months?

        June 20, 2012
      • Actually spousal abuse is 11 times the national average and violent crime is generally higher than in the south, largely fuelled by alcohol, which is prohibited in some communities, severely restricted in others.

        June 20, 2012
      • Wow! That’s terrible. 😦

        June 20, 2012
  10. Love this post too. Love your blog. Keep up the good work!!

    June 20, 2012
  11. Yes, yes, please write more.

    June 20, 2012
  12. Wow. As a practicing attorney in Chicago, it’s really interesting to read about others’ experiences in the legal community. How different!

    June 20, 2012
    • I like the informal nature of practice up here. I’ve done bail hearings in my underwear…. of course, that was over the telephone 🙂

      June 20, 2012
  13. I hate snow..hate hate hate it..but these photos are gorgeous!! I want to gooo there!

    June 20, 2012
  14. Oh yes, you have to share more – fascinating stuff this! That being said, I doubt very much that I would be able to cope with that cold… I can barely handle our South African winters! Your photos depict the cold very well!
    🙂 Mandy

    June 20, 2012
  15. A very lovely & interesting post! Thanks for sharing it with us! 🙂

    June 21, 2012
  16. Wow, that is tough stuff. I worked for legal aid in B.C. as a law librarian. (And also have worked for private firms) So your services were greatly needed/appreciated. I’m certain the cases you dealt with were a window into some problems up there in the Far North.

    June 21, 2012
    • Alcohol, alcohol alcohol…. it can be counted on to be a factor in 80, possibly 90 percent of all the cases we deal with.

      June 21, 2012
  17. Wonderful blog! I’m intrigued by all the photos — looks so cold but everyone wraps up warmly. Ever seen the Northern Lights? That’s on my bucket list of things to see one day.

    June 22, 2012
    • Here in Iqaluit, the lights are just a few degrees from being directly overhead but we actually face south to see them. In Pond Inlet we were too far north to see them except on one very rare occasion where we saw the ‘inside’ of the aurora far to the north… we were actually seeing the part that would normally only be visible from Russia.

      June 22, 2012
  18. You had me at “Canada’s Highest Lawyer”. Saskatchewan Chief Justice Ed Bayda was a dear and close friend. I see the same delightful, wry humour in your writings.

    June 30, 2012
    • I confess I had to Google Mr Justice Bayda … Did he ever sit in this part of the world? Nunavut (both now and before when it was part of the NWT) has ‘fly-in’ Judges on a regular basis to supplement our regular small bench.

      June 30, 2012
  19. Vivid descriptions! I love it!!!

    November 4, 2012

Comments, thoughts or suggestions most welcome...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Meet & Eats

The food that I've had the pleasure of meeting and eating.

Uncle Grumpy's Playroom

Current events, humor, science, religion, satire

Food Travel Lover

走过的地方 尝过的美食 留下的回忆

The Odd Pantry

Essays on food

Reputable Sources

Organizing ferments since 2013

that Other Cooking Blog

. food . photo . sous vide .


My Virtual Cookbook to Share My Love and Joy of Food and Cooking One Recipe at a Time

lola rugula

my journey of cooking, gardening, preserving and more

Yummy Lummy

I cook, photograph and eat food with the occasional restaurant review!

Eye Of the Beholder

A pair of eternally curious eyes and a camera...Life is beautiful.

gluten free zen

Taking The Stress Out Of Gluten-Free Grain-Free & Dairy-Free Living

Clayton's Kitchen

Big flavors and fun cooking from a cubbyhole kitchen

Bunny Eats Design

Happy things, tasty food and good design


Dentist chef, just a dentistry student who practice the dentist's cooking recipes in a dentist's kitchen

Mad Dog TV Dinners

Guess what's coming to dinner?


Real Food & Real Opinions

Bento Days

Making bentos for kids

Garden to Wok

Fresh and tasty!

Bam's Kitchen

Healthy World Cuisine

Trang Quynh

everyone is special in their own way :)

Farm to Table Asian Secrets

Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season


If people say that life is too short to drink bad wine, it means also that life is too short to eat crappy food!

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.

The Unorthodox Epicure

Confessions of an Aspiring Food Snob

The 好吃 Challenge

1 girl, 273 days, 100 recipes


a recipe sharing and bento blog


Just another site

The Food Nazi

Never try to eat more than you can lift

Expat Chef in Barcelona

From my kitchen to yours

Keeping Up With the Holsbys

a journey into my head and my pantry

Nurul's Culinary Adventures

I Love Food, the Universe and Everything!!


home-cooking recipes, restaurant reviews, International cuisine ,

Naked Vegan Cooking

Body-positive Vegan Goodness

Bites of Food History

Sharing my Experimental Archaeology of Food

Stefan's Gourmet Blog

Cooking, food, wine


A Journey About Food, Recipes And Destinations


Fresh, exciting and adventurous food journey

One Man's Meat

Multi-award winning food blog, written in Dublin, Ireland.

%d bloggers like this: