Don't dump waste in Arctic waters, Inuit leader tells navy

A proposal from the Canadian navy to allow ships to dump waste into Arctic waters is being opposed by the organization representing the Inuit.

A proposal from the Canadian navy to allow ships to dump waste into Arctic waters is being opposed bythe organization representing theInuit.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon has written to federal Defence Minister Peter MacKay, asking for clarification on the navy's plans to review how it deals with disposing of waste on navy vessels.

As the military boosts its presence in the Arctic, questions are being raised abouthow to adaptto an area where the nearest port could be hundreds of kilometres away.

"We don't want any further pollution taking place in the Arctic Ocean that isn't already there," Simon said Monday.

Navy officials said they are primarily looking at how to dispose of food waste, but Simon said she is still concerned that dumping garbage would only add to the negative effects climate change is having on the northern environment.

"We really don't know what the long-term impacts are and how many ships are actually going to be doing this, because it's not very far from the coastline that they can dump this," she said. "We have hunting and fishing that goes on all along the coast of the Arctic Ocean."

In May, amendments to the federal Shipping Act made it legal to dump garbage in certain Arctic waters, including areas in the Beaufort Sea, just east of Lancaster Sound and near communities such as Pond Inlet.

"We're spending a little bit more time up North, and as we do that we're finding we have to keep garbage on board a little bit longer and it putrefies after a bit of time," Lt.-Cmdr. James Dziarski told CBC News.

"We've had some questions from the fleet when they're up there."

Those questions were raised in the summer of 2006 during Operation Lancaster, an Arctic sovereignty exercise that took the Canadian navy farther north than it had been in decades. During that time, garbage and sewage kept accumulating while navy vessels were hundreds of kilometres away from the closest port.

But Simon said the navy needs to find ways to deal with waste without causing harm to the environment.

"When you get rid of one problem, you shouldn't create another problem that would probably have a much larger impact on the people that live there — who are the Inuit that live off the coast of the Arctic Ocean," she said.

Simon said she has not yet heard back from the federal government. In the meantime, military officials hope to make final decisions on the proposed changes by the end of the year.