Baffinland asks for emergency order to increase mine production, warns of mass layoffs

Baffinland is asking the federal government for an emergency order that would let it mine six million tonnes of ore this year. A temporary approval allowing the company to mine that amount each year since 2018 expired at the end of 2021, meaning it's current limit is 4.2 million tonnes.

Earlier approval that allowed company to mine 6M tonnes per year expired in 2021

Baffinland is asking the federal government for an emergency order so that it can mine 6 million tonnes of ore this year from its Mary River mine in Nunavut. The current cap is 4.2 million tonnes. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Baffinland is asking the federal government for an emergency order that would allow it to continue to mine and truck up to six million tonnes of ore from its Mary River iron mine in Nunavut this year — saying the mine's future is otherwise at risk.

The company was allowed to increase its production from 4.2 million tonnes of ore to six million tonnes back in 2018. That temporary approval was initially supposed to expire at the end of 2019, but was extended to the end of 2021 instead. 

Baffinland says it submitted a request on Wednesday to Dan Vandal, Canada's minister of northern affairs, to issue a new emergency order to increase production. 

If the order is not granted, Baffinland said in a statement it would have to suspend operations at the Mary River mine for the rest of the year after production hits 4.2 million tonnes. Peter Akman, a spokesperson for the company, said that would mean laying off up to 1,328 Canadians, including 209 Inuit.

The situation constitutes an "emergency," he said, because mass terminations would have a "significant negative impact on the mental health of our workers, their families and the communities." 

The Hamlet of Sanirajak, Nunavut, and the Arctic Co-op have also issued letters of support for Baffinland's emergency order request.

The ask comes as Baffinland fights for the approval of its Phase 2 expansion project — which, if the company gets its way, would allow it to build a 110-kilometre railway to its Milne Inlet port and increase the amount of ore it can ship to 12 million tonnes per year. 

Earlier this month, the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) recommended to Vandal that the expansion not be allowed to proceed. NIRB said the project had the potential for "significant adverse ecosystemic effects" on marine mammals, fish, caribou and other wildlife which in turn could harm Inuit culture, land use and food security.

The Phase 2 decision ultimately rests with Vandal, who has previously said he will come to a decision within 90 days of NIRB's recommendation.