Clyde River may have uphill battle to block seismic testing

The mayor, hamlet and hunter's and trapper's organization is asking a federal court to overturn the National Energy Board's decision; a lawyer says the group will have to prove the National Energy Board didn't do its job.

Lawyer calls case to prove NEB didn't do its job "hard, but not unwinnable"

People in Clyde River are hoping a court challenge will block plans to do seismic testing off Baffin Island and the group who launched a court challenge will have to prove the National Energy Board didn't do its job. 

On Monday, the mayor, hamlet and hunter's and trapper's association asked a federal court to overturn the National Energy Board's decision to approve an application to do seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. They said the NEB did not properly consult their community. 

Robert Janes, a lawyer with experience in Nunavut, described Clyde River's court challenge as "hard, but not unwinnable." 

"That the National Energy Board failed to consider something they should have, failed to properly take into account environmental factors, or failed to take into account certain aboriginal law issues," said Janes.

This is not the first time Inuit have gone to court on seismic testing. In 2010, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association successfully stopped it from happening on Lancaster Sound. 

But that case was heard by the Nunavut Court of Appeal, where judges are more familiar with Inuit traditional knowledge. Since this case challenges the NEB, the case must be heard by the Federal Court of Appeal.
"You have a group of judges who are not scientists, who are not acquainted with the North, who are not necessarily acquainted with energy policy and they look at the National Energy Board and say, 'Well look, this is the special tribunal that was set up to deal with these issues. Who are we to be interfering with them'," said Janes. 

Whatever the outcome of the court case, Janes said the case will bring more attention to how consultations are done. 

Clyde River's case looks at a pressing legal issue for all aboriginal Canadians: consultation. Janes defended Ontario's Grassy Narrows First Nation in its bid to stop a logging permit. He said the Clyde River case will look at how communities are consulted about resource development.

"This is a hugely important question, as the National Energy Board is now fully in charge of dealing with the environmental issues and regulatory issues with all these massive energy projects across the country." 

Janes said First Nations in British Columbia are making a similar case regarding consultations the Northern Gateway Pipeline.