The Federal Court of Appeal has granted a request to expedite a hearing to decide whether or not a decision to allow seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait should be overturned.
Last year, the Hamlet of Clyde River, Nunavut, its mayor, Jerry Natanine, and the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organization asked for a judicial review of the decision, saying the National Energy Board did not properly consult with community residents and arguing that the testing could harm the environment.
"Everyone in Nunavut knows that Davis Strait and Baffin Bay are home to marine mammals, marine mammals like narwhal, ringed seal, and the bowhead whale," says Nader Hasan, the lawyer representing the Clyde River group.
"These are mammals on which many communities in Nunavut are highly dependent, for their food, for their culture, for their economy."
Seismic testing allows companies to detect oil and gas deposits beneath the ocean by sending loud sound waves into the water. Natanine and the Hunters and Trappers Organization are concerned the testing will disrupt animal migration patterns.
"The project, if it goes ahead, will be operating for a period of 5 years, during the ice-free season," says Hasan. "And the blasts will occur 24 hours a day, every 13 to 16 seconds."
Court should hear case before summer testing
Hasan says a date for the hearing has not been set, but he expects a hearing date will be set sometime in April, before companies begin looking for oil and gas.
"I know that the project proponents want their project to go ahead in July," he says. "So, if the court does hear the matter in April, that will give it some time to hear the matter, consider, and decide it before the project is scheduled to begin."
If the Clyde River group succeeds in their legal challenge of the decision, Hasan says the companies that plan to do the tests would have to go through the lengthy process of applying to the National Energy Board for a licence again.
He says the case will set a "tremendously important precedent" when it comes to future decisions by the National Energy Board.
"It's vitally important as an Inuit rights issue. It's vitally important as an environmental issue. And therefore, it's vitally important as a Canadian issue."