Nunavut Law Foundation appointee helps blaze trail for aspiring lawyers
Foundation’s support “goes a long way”
A little support from the Nunavut Law Foundation helped put Marie Belleau through law school and last year helped launch her legal career in Iqaluit.
And now, as the foundation’s newest appointed board member, Belleau, 31, is ready to help fellow Nunavummiut do the same.
“Having gone through that recently, I know how expensive it can be to get yourself through law school, and articling, the bar exams and those kinds of things,” she laughs.
“I know there’s really a need when you’re a student, to just have a bit of support financially. It goes a long way.”
Belleau works as a lawyer for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. The Nunavut Law Society, which governs the legal profession in Nunavut, appointed her to the Nunavut Law Foundation’s five-member board in February.
Admitted to the Nunavut bar just last September, Belleau is the law foundation’s youngest board member.
The foundation appointed the rookie lawyer in February to bring a fresh perspective to the non-profit group, whose mandate is to provide grants and funding for “legal education, community justice, legal research and law reform.”
These grants include the Upinnaqtuq Award for youth leadership among high school students and the Lucien Ukaliannuk Studies award — a grant for students pursuing studies in law.
Belleau benefited from the Ukaliannuk award when she started her studies at Université Laval in Quebec City in 2006.
The new lawyer’s contribution is much needed, says the foundation’s administrator, Nalini Vaddapalli.
“She remembers her law school days, so she’s going to bring a new perspective to the board, and when applications from students are coming in, her contributions will be well-received,” Vaddapalli said.
“Because when you’ve been a lawyer for a while, you may forget what it is to be a student, and what it is to struggle.”
Belleau’s broad background — she studied law in both Quebec and Ontario — as well as Inuit heritage on her mother’s side, make her a “fantastic fit to the board,” Vaddapalli said.
Belleau’s parents are well-known in the North. Her mother is chef and TV personality Rebecca Veevee and her father, Jacques Belleau, originally from Quebec, was the founding owner of the Frobuild Construction firm in Iqaluit.
Raised in Iqaluit as a child and largely in Quebec City after the age of nine, Belleau kept close ties to both cities.
When she lived in Quebec, Belleau would spend summers at her family’s other home in Iqaluit.
“We were kind of based in the North and the South,” she said.
Belleau’s knowledge of law also bridges two worlds — common law, as practiced in Nunavut and Ontario, and civil law, practiced in Quebec.
She earned her civil law degree at Université Laval in Quebec City, followed by a common law degree at the University of Ottawa. She is a member of both the Ontario and Nunavut bars.
The Law Foundation has a budget of about $30,000 per year, collected largely from the 280 members of the Law Society of Nunavut through membership fees. Only one-third of the law society’s members are actually residents of the territory, according to Vaddapalli.
This year, the law foundation’s five-member board is sharpening the selection process for its students’ awards, and working to improve its communications strategy.
Belleau highlighted access to justice as another key part of the foundation’s mandate, which she looks forward to advancing in her two-year term on the board.
“We have to be creative in many ways, to be able to get that information out there in all the languages,” she said. “There’s lots of Inuktitut language-speakers, and we have to make sure they’re not left out of ads or publications.”
The group is looking to accomplish this through the internet, primarily, “because we can’t physically be in every community,” Belleau said.
Creativity is another one of Belleau’s fortes, and she looks forward to using this to advance the work of the foundation.
The young lawyer is also an accomplished throat-singer, musician and dancer who performs at festivals and special events.
Iqaluit residents would recognize her as an MC at special events in the Nunavut capital, often in French. Belleau calls her work in entertainment more of a passion than a profession.
“I’ve always entertained, and worked to develop different art forms,” she said, adding that she looks forward to doing the same in her volunteer work for the foundation.
“It’s an honour and a pleasure for me to work with other members of the bar and also members of the public,” she said. “It’s a good volunteer experience, because you’re encouraging positive things to happen in the territory.”