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Language and Culture (13-17)

NTI Inuit language rights lawsuit survives GN motion to strike it down

March 3, 2023

Lawsuit to proceed to trial, government has 30 days to file its statement of defence 

A Nunavut judge has dismissed an application from the Government of Nunavut to strike Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s lawsuit against the territorial government. (File photo)

Nunatsiaq News: A Nunavut judge has dismissed an application to strike Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s lawsuit against the government over Inuit language rights.

NTI filed a lawsuit against the Nunavut government in October 2021, claiming the government has failed its legal obligation to ensure Inuktut language education is available throughout the territory’s public school system.

The lawsuit raises a constitutional challenge, claiming Inuktut language rights are protected under section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. NTI argued the section applies to race and discrimination, and therefore also to language rights.

In its suit, NTI alleges the GN is discriminating against Inuit by not providing Inuktut education despite Inuktut being the dominant language in Nunavut. The lawsuit calls for a court order to compel the GN to come up with a five-year plan to deliver Inuit language education from kindergarten to Grade 12. Currently, Inuktut education is available only up to Grade 4.

The claim also comes after Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act, was created in 2019 and passed in the Nunavut legislature in 2020.

The GN filed a motion to strike the lawsuit in April 2022, arguing section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which discusses equality rights, does not apply to language rights.

In a decision released Friday, Judge Paul Bychok said the law hasn’t been settled on whether section 15 applies to Inuit language rights. “It is not plain and obvious that the respondents’ claim would fail, however it is characterized. The action must proceed to trial,” Bychok wrote. “Taken at face value, the 2019 amendments applies explicitly to, and will have a direct impact upon, Inuit children and their ability to study in their mother tongue or the language of their immediate ancestors,” he wrote.

Bychok also said Bill 25 may contribute to Inuit youth losing their language and their connection to Inuit culture. He said the effect of the amendments, “may be to perpetuate the undeniable historical disadvantages experienced by Inuit from colonialism.”

The government now has 30 days to file its statement of defence in the lawsuit.

By Emma Tranter