280 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 2 MARCH 2020
small towns dispersed throughout the territory. She put in the time to
ensure that even as a government servant, justice could be done for everyday
people. This was usually an unseen and thankless job.
After several years of working for the Crown, Melissa knew that there
was another, more vital side to community service. She moved three blocks
to become senior staff counsel for Legal Aid Yukon. Once again, the significance
of Melissa’s now being the only Indigenous criminal defence lawyer
in the Yukon cannot be overstated.
Like many staff legal aid offices, counsel often have countless criminal
files, all of which have complexities directly related to the individuals
charged and which require tremendous attention to detail to protect people’s
interests. This often proves to be a daunting if not impossible task for
most lawyers, particularly when one is travelling for circuit court and on
call after hours to handle the phones. Melissa met this challenge with fortitude
and even good humour. She made sure she knew every detail of every
file, and while this was frequently a thankless and frustrating job, with
clients constantly calling and often screaming at her to help them when
they would not help themselves, this translated into some good stories.
These are too numerous to recount, and many might offend some of you,
but one that stands out is of a criminal harassment file where Melissa noted
how a grammatically challenged police officer repeatedly wrote that the
accused was “stocking” the complainant.
Where Melissa found the energy to do half of what she did is a great mystery,
as her contribution to the community did not stop with her significant
professional public service. In 2004 Melissa was appointed to the Yukon
Human Rights Commission, acting as chair from 2006 to 2010. Somehow,
Melissa was also actively involved with the CBA right from the beginning,
serving as chair of the Yukon branch and as a national board member from
2008 to 2009 and again from 2016 to 2017, while acting as chair of various
committees, including for Yukon Women Lawyers, Criminal Justice Law,
and Aboriginal Law. More recently, Melissa served on the Truth and Reconciliation
National Task Force of the CBA.
Melissa capped her work in public service by running for the NDP in 2015
to be the Yukon’s federal Member of Parliament. Undoubtedly, Melissa was
by far the best Yukon candidate in that election; no one could come close to
matching either her record of service to the people and particularly the disempowered,
or her level of knowledge about how people should be represented.
But politics is politics. After the election, Melissa did not stop being
an advocate for people, appearing frequently on the radio and on TV, commenting
on politics and public policy.