Inuit win injunction on seismic testing

An Inuit group in Nunavut has been granted an injunction to stop seismic testing in Lancaster Sound.

Judge grants block, citing potential for 'irreparable harm'

An Inuit group in Nunavut has been granted an injunction to stop seismic testing in Lancaster Sound, near the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage.

In a decision handed down Sunday, Judge Susan Cooper issued an order to stop Natural Resources Canada from carrying out seismic tests aimed at mapping the area for potential oil and gas resources.

Residents from five communities in the area — Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay, Grise Fiord, Clyde River and Pond Inlet — were largely opposed to the plan to send sound blasts through the water, saying the sound could adversely affect whales, polar bears and other marine life in Lancaster Sound and change migration patterns.
Resolute Bay is one of five Inuit communities in Nunavut where opposition to the seismic testing plan was widespread.

The Nunavut government and the federal government had argued against an injunction, the latter citing a consultant's report that said the testing would have little or no impact on marine mammals. 

But Judge Cooper noted "some aspects of the report … cause concern."

She said the fact that the report contains protocols to mitigate the impact of seismic activity on marine wildlife "supports the conclusion that there are impacts," she wrote.   

"I am satisfied that Inuit in the five affected communities will suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted," she ruled in granting the injunction.

The Inuit group that sought the injunction said it welcomed the ruling and said it was "unfortunate" that Inuit needed to go to court to have their voices heard. The group had maintained that public hearings in May and June did not amount to the "meaningful consultations" required.

"I look forward to the day when the advice of Inuit and their representative organizations is sought prior to seeking project approval," said Okalik Eegeesiak of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

The tests would have been conducted by the Alfred Wegener Institute of Germany.

The institute's ship Polarstern is sailing toward Lancaster Sound off the north coast of Baffin Island with permits to conduct seismic tests on the sea floor.

Officials at the German institute expressed frustration last week at the apparent miscommunication between the federal and provincial governments and the local Inuit.

With files from The Canadian Press