The Department of Public Services came into being in October 1971. The purpose of the department was to centralize a variety of government services that were provided to the public. This objective was achieved by joining the former Department of Legal Affairs with the Administration of Ordinances and Labour Standards from the Territorial Secretary's Department, and by adding the functions of the Territorial Fire Marshal and the Territorial Legal System.
The Department of Public Services provided solicitor and legislative services to the Territorial Council, the Commissioner and Executive and to the departments of the Government of the Northwest Territories. The department was responsible for the administration of justice in the Northwest Territories, except in the appointment of a Territorial Judge and Crown Prosecutor. Furthermore, the department provided for the facilitation of a Legal Aid Program, the management of the Territorial Liquor System, Workmen's Compensation and Labour Standards Legislation, including the inspection and enforcement of safety in the workplace, fire marshal's responsibilities and the administration and enforcement of regulatory ordinances relating to licensing of motor vehicles, businesses, professions and registration of Vital Statistics. In 1971, the Territorial Government also assumed the responsibility for the Administration of Justice in the Northwest Territories as it related to the Magistrates Court, support staff of the Territorial Court and Justices of the Peace. Full responsibility was also assumed for the office of the Public Trustee, which had previously been administered by a private law firm. The department also administered the Police Services Agreement with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Between 1971-1975, the Administration and Registries Division provided a wide variety of services. In addition to providing policy direction, financial, personnel and administrative support, the division administered the Land Titles Act, the Companies, Societies, Co-operatives and Credit Unions Ordinances, Document Registry, Securities Ordinances and the Vital Statistics Ordinance. This division also administered the Legal Aid Program, Police Services Agreement and lottery provisions of the Criminal Code. As the representative of the Public Trustee, the estates of the deceased, minors, missing persons and mentally incompetent persons were also managed. In addition, the preparation, circulation and printing of Ordinances and Regulations were overseen by the Administration activity, as was the provision of legal advice to the Legislation Policy Committee and to Executive and Government departments relating to the preparation of legislation. Between 1975-1976, the Administration and Registries Division underwent a significant change. The registries, licensing and regulatory functions were transferred to their own division and the responsibilities for the provision of legal services and advice to government departments, boards and Council of the Northwest Territories, as well as the drafting of Ordinances, Regulations and Orders and Public Trustee functions were now delivered by the Legal Services Division. The Administration Division was renamed the Directorate Division in 1977-1978. The Directorate developed operating guidelines and policy proposals for the Executive Committee; represented the department at senior management reviews and provided for the financial administration of the department. The Directorate continued to act as a liaison between the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police through the administration of the Police Services Agreement.
The Administration of Ordinances Division operated between 1971-1973; it was responsible for the administration, documentation of statistics and issuance of certificates of authority and licenses for approximately 25 Ordinances. The principal ordinances administered were Vehicle, Public Service Vehicles, Insurance, Professional (Medical, Dental etc.) and Business Licenses. Between 1973-1974, these responsibilities were transferred to the Administration Division, which was then renamed the Administration and Registries Division.
In 1975-1976, the registry, licensing and regulatory functions that were administered on behalf of the Government of the Northwest Territories were transferred to two separate divisions. The Registries Division, which was renamed the Motor Vehicle and Vital Statistics Registry in 1977-1978, provided administrative support for the registering and licensing of motor vehicles, business licenses and recording all Vital Statistics for the Northwest Territories. The Highway Transport Board was also provided for within this department. This Board controlled and regulated the trucking industry and Weigh Scale facilities.
The registration of all land titles and mortgages for the Northwest Territories and the registration of new companies, societies and securities were now delivered by the Legal Registries Division. However, in 1978-1979, this division was dissolved the responsibilities were transferred to the Legal Services Division.
The Legal Services Division emerged in 1979 when the responsibilities for the provision of legal services and advice to government departments, boards and Council of the Northwest Territories, as well as the drafting of Ordinances, Regulations and Orders were transferred from the Administration and Registries Division. The responsibilities of Legal Services Division also included the review of contracts, property transactions, the carrying of actions in court on behalf of the Territorial Government and the administration of Acts and Ordinances such as Maintenance Orders, Ordinance (Facilities for Enforcement) and the lottery provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. This division also gave legal support to the Territorial Court staff and to several boards set up under Territorial Ordinances. Furthermore, this division oversaw the delivery of services provided by the Public Trustee. As Legal Advisor to the Council of the Northwest Territories, counsel provided legal advice and services related to the preparation, publishing and distribution of territorial legislation. During 1978-1979, this activity provided for the publication of the Northwest Territories Gazette that provided a comprehensive public record of all regulations made by the Executive. The Legal Advisor also controlled the registration of all orders and regulations issued by the Commissioner.
The Administration of Justice Division, renamed the Court Division in 1973, provided administrative and financial support for the Supreme Court, Magistrates' Courts and Juvenile Courts in the Northwest Territories. This included the provision of staffing for all courts, except for the Judge of the Territorial Court, Northwest Territories Court of Appeal and the Crown Prosecutor. This division incurred the expenses for court services held all over the Northwest Territories, including the payment of Deputy Magistrates, Coroners, witnesses, interpreters, jurors and Justices of the Peace. In addition, training for professional and special services like Justices of the Peace and coroners was offered. As well, this division made available the facilities for holding of court and provided for the filing, recording and safekeeping of court documents. The cost of the court circuits was shared with the Federal Government.
The Safety Division encompassed the regulatory and administrative responsibilities of the Government of the Northwest Territories for fire, mechanical, electrical and industrial safety. This included enforcement of the Fire Prevention Ordinance, Petroleum Products Ordinance, Boilers and Pressure Vessels Ordinance and Electrical Protection Ordinance. Public education was a necessary element in the delivery and administration of this program. In addition, the Safety Division trained both professional and voluntary fire chiefs in the Northwest Territories and reviewed building plans to ensure compliance with building and safety codes. The initiation of an Occupational Health Program in 1979 resulted in the addition of a new unit to the Safety Division.
The Labour Standards and Workmen's Compensation Division operated between 1971-1976. The division administered the Labour Standards Ordinance, which provided for the establishment and enforcement by inspection of employment standards relating to minimum wages, hours of work, holidays and employment conditions. The Fair Practices Ordinance, Wages Recovery Ordinance, Employment Agencies Ordinance and Workmen's Compensation Ordinance were all delivered by this department and investigations undertaken as required. The Public Service Accident Program was also developed and promoted through this division.
Between 1976-1977, the Worker's Compensation activity, which had been delivered along with Labour Standards, became its own division. It was comprised of a three-member Board and its staff provided for the Workmen's Compensation Ordinance, which included education, enforcement, collection of administrative assessments, determination of partial and permanent disabilities, review of claims on appeal, the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Fund and all related matters. In 1977, under the Workmen's Compensation Ordinance, the Worker's Compensation Activity began to pay for its administration costs directly out of revenue collected in its operations. At this time it became a separate board and no longer accountable to the Department of Public Services.
The Consumer Protection and Legal Aid Division was formed in 1975-1976. The major activity centered on administering the Consumer Protection Ordinance and answering inquiries under the Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. This division was also responsible for the issuing of lottery and bingo licenses and delivering the Legal Aid Program in the Northwest Territories. The objective of Legal Aid Program was to provide both criminal and civil legal aid in the Northwest Territories to every resident who could not afford to pay for legal services. This was facilitated by a Legal Aid Committee that consisted of a government representative, a representative from the legal profession and an individual with no connection to the public service or the Northwest Territories Bar Association.
Between 1978-1979, the Labour Standards division was renamed the Labour and Consumer Affairs Division when the Consumer Protection and Legal Aid Division joined with Labour Standards Division. The division continued to provide administrative support to the Labour Standards Board, Public Utilities Board and Legal Aid Committee. It also provided for the Government of the Northwest Territories' share of support for legal aid, the Native Court Workers' Program and the Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik Legal Services Centre, the costs of which were shared with the Federal Government. This division was renamed Labour and Consumer Affairs in 1979.
Between 1971-1975, the Department of Public Services administered the Northwest Territories Liquor Control System. This activity provided for the operation of all government liquor stores and supervision of licensed premises, including the general management and fiscal control of the Liquor Control System and administrative support for the Liquor Control Board. Inspections of licensed premises were conducted by this activity, as well as the preparation of the annual financial report. In 1975, the Liquor Control System was transferred to the Department of Finance.
Effective October 1, 1979, the Department of Public Services, as a result of the Commissioner's Task Force on Administration, was renamed the Department of Justice and Public Services to better reflect new areas of responsibility being assumed in the early 1980's from the Federal Government.