Alumni spolight: 2022 Presidents’ Alumni Award recipient Madeleine Redfern


By Ivan Watson

Madeleine Redfern is a UVic law graduate, businessperson, community advocate, former mayor of Iqaluit, and one of this year’s select recipients of the UVic Alumni Association’s highest honour—the Presidents’ Alumni Award.

“It’s an honour to have that recognition for all the work and contributions that I have achieved over the course of my career,” says Redfern. “There are so many benefits to having a UVic law degree. It has assisted in my work, both as a businesswoman, as the Chair of the Nunavut Legal Services Board, which is the territorial public agency providing Legal Aid, and as an elected official. It’s been invaluable in in helping to develop bylaws, reviewing and assessing policies plus contributing to the all the different types of work that I’ve been involved in since graduating.”

Redfern received her UVic law degree in 2006, as part of the inaugural class of the innovative Akitsiraq law program, which was the first of its kind in Canada to bring legal education to community in the North. Through the program, Inuit students earned their UVic law degrees in Nunavut’s capital city of Iqaluit. Law professors from across the country travelled to Iqaluit to teach in the program which was a partnership between UVic, the Akitsiraq Law School Society and Nunavut Arctic College.

“We were extremely fortunate to have had a small, tight-knit cohort. We had an amazing, wide range of professors that taught us all our courses coming from UVic, and from other universities from within Canada, and even internationally,” says Redfern. “We had the benefits of having law school come to us. It was delivered in Iqaluit so we didn’t have to leave our territory, our community, our family, our friends, or our support system.”

The unique program meant that legal education was taught, and debated, in ways there were relevant to the unique context of the Nunavut territory.

“We were incredibly privileged to have such a high calibre of professors from all walks of life come and teach us here and they made a real attempt to learn and to incorporate as much Aboriginal, Indigenous and Inuit law into our courses, and showed us that there are important distinctions and differences, but they are not necessarily in conflict,” recalls Redfern. “The level of engagement with our professors was much higher as a result of being able to discuss the concepts around the principles of law or judgements, as well as whether or not those were, or were not, working in our territory, given that we are a unique jurisdiction, with a distinct culture.”

After graduation, Redfern became the first Inuk person to earn a clerkship at the Supreme Court of Canada, clerking for Justice Louise Charron. From 2010 to 2012 and 2016 to 2019, she served as mayor of Iqaluit. One of her proudest career accomplishments to date is her work on the Qikiqtani Truth Commission which collected testimony directly from Inuit to better understand how government policies, programs and decisions affected them and their families, and profoundly and irreversibly altered their way of life from 1950 to 1975.

“I am extremely honoured that I was able to be part of the Inuit-led Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which examined an historical period of transition for Inuit, moving from nomadic life into permanent settlements, but was also a period of transition for Canada,” she says. “I think that out of all my career, that work has been the most special, because it leaves an in-depth legacy of work that provides a very sound and valid historical analysis that examines all the complexities from a multicultural perspective, Inuit and non-Inuit, and even considers differences among Inuit, by generations, and by gender. It’s incredibly important to understand our shared history, our shared reality, and that complicated and difficult history must be understood, because many of the same types of attitudes and the way that government works, is still happening now in 2022.”

Redfern sees a legal education as foundational to democracy, citizenship and the preservation of individual and collective rights. She credits her UVic law degree for helping her launch a successful career in many different areas, while always retaining a focus on social justice, advocacy and community leadership.

“It’s important to recognise that law is a very useful foundational education, and you can chose to work in many different fields.  A law degree gives you a real, fundamental understanding of how and why laws and legislation are drafted and interpreted and how policies are developed as well as their application,” explains Redfern. “Life is complicated and complex and it can be a real challenge in understanding that while law generally attempts to apply broadly, it doesn’t always work in a regional or cultural context. It’s okay to have those differences and to recognise that when something doesn’t work we have an opportunity to learn from, adjust, adapt and to improve the law and its application that suits the different regional and cultural contexts across our country.”

The Presidents’ Alumni Award is the University of Victoria Alumni Association’s (UVAA) highest honour and is given by the President of UVic and the President of the UVAA to distinguished alumni. The award recognizes the outstanding lifetime accomplishments of alumni who have earned national or international regard or have had significant local impact as a result of their outstanding professional achievements and/or service to society. More information about this year’s distinguished alumni awards is available on the UVAA website.

Media contact:

Ivan Watson
UVic Law Communications