John MacLean

Lawyer, Nunavut Department of Justice

Bachelor of Journalism (Hons.), Journalism and History, 2003

We’re still doing things for the first time in Nunavut.

John MacLean is doing work he never knew he wanted to do, in a place he never knew he wanted to be. He loves both.

John is a lawyer with the Legal and Constitutional Law Division of the Nunavut Department of Justice in Iqaluit, just south of the Arctic Circle.

About the place John says, “I liken Iqaluit to a large university campus. There’s a club for everyone. I played board games with a group, there was another group I watched documentaries and ate pizza with.”

And he talks happily about the new swimming pool (indoor of course), the movie theatre, grocery stores, churches and a mosque. And much more.  All the comforts of home. And it is his home. John signed up for a three year stint, almost seven years ago.

“The North is a part of Canada few people ever get to see.”

About the job he says with a laugh, “It’s kind of like Hogwarts. The sorting hat put me into corporate and commercial law.”

One of his responsibilities is public procurement, advising on  contracts for government purchases, everything from fuel to pens to Air Ambulance services. But he also works on issues of privacy, and access to information and health care consent.

John earned his law degree after working for a few years as a journalist, with the CBC and as a freelancer.  He’d always been interested in both and wasn’t sure, as he says, “which was the prime and which the back up”. It turned out law won out but John still uses the skills he learned at King’s School of Journalism.

“It’s being able to ask questions of my clients when I am taking instructions or trying to come up with a solution for something. That’s important. And then taking that information and turning it into something useful and succinct that people will understand.”

That’s an incredibly useful skill in a place where the legal and cultural practices, not to mention the language of southern Canada are newcomers.

“What I like about Nunavut is that it was born April 1, 1999. I started King’s in 1999. So my adult life and the life of Nunavut as a separate territory are running parallel to each other. We’re still doing things for the first time in Nunavut. We adopted every act, every policy manual, everything from the Northwest Territories whether it worked or not. But we just needed a body of laws. So we’re still trying to figure out how to serve 25 communities, none of which is connected to the other. It’s a really interesting place to practice law. We’re still modifying practices, incorporating Inuit societal values into a Westminster style legal system.”

On top of the work and the comfort and beauty of the place John is getting to do things unheard of in the south. At the tender age of 32 he was president of the Nunavut Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, giving him a seat on the national Board of Directors as the Nunavut representative. He’s helped organize high school mock trials and national legal conferences.  He is quite literally on the top of the world. He remembers a conversation with his father.

“I can see you found a place that fits,” his dad said. John replied, “I have to agree.”

Posted: Feb. 2017

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