Bar talk
Justice considers bursaries for equality

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (July 16/99) - Northern legal problems are less acute than in the south. Or so says the head of the Canadian Bar Association.

The need for "legal aid is not as much of an issue here," CBA president Barry Gorlick told about 25 people at the NWT branch's annual general meeting.

"In the rest of the country it's the ultimate access to justice issue."

NWT Bar Association president Jack Williams backed Gorlick up by estimating that in the NWT there is the highest per case funding in the country.

"Racial equality has never been an issue here," Williams said on another issue the CBA lobbies for.

"In actual fact we probably have the better statistics but that could be a function of the fact that we're a smaller jurisdiction."

He said what would be even more promising for equality would be a scholarship program to allow Aboriginal students entering law school to get bursary funding.

Department of Justice deputy minister Don Cooper said there is discussion about such a program.

"The department of justice has for some time actively been considering ways to try to increase the participation (of aboriginal people) in management positions within its department," he said.

"And something it has under consideration is a law school bursary program but it's tentative."

He said he did not want to create the false impression that the program is definite and he stressed the bursaries are only in the "developmental stages" right now.

Cooper said what could keep the department from issuing the bursaries is that there are no guarantees the students would want to work in government, or even in the North.

That said, if the bursaries do go ahead and the students choose to work in government, "a few years down the road they would be in a position to be in senior management within the Department of Justice," Cooper said.

Another issue the NWT branch continues to lobby for is a new courthouse.

The current one lacks space, is at the end of a 20- year lease and may need renovating, according to Williams.

Last November, CBA members met with justice officials to discuss the feasibility of a new courthouse.

"The issue is still under review. That's the best way to put it," Cooper responded.