Canada may be 'undermining' Nunavut Impact Review Board: WWF

The World Wildlife Fund is criticizing federal ministers for approving increases in iron production at the Mary River mine, even though Nunavut regulators denied Baffinland’s request.

Baffinland received federal approvals after Nunavut Impact Review Board said no

The Federal Tiber bulk carrier leaves from the Milne port, carrying iron ore from Baffinland's Mary River project. (Submitted by Baffinland)

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is criticizing federal ministers for approving increases in iron production at Nunavut's Mary River mine, even though regulators denied Baffinland's request.

In August, the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) originally denied Baffinland Iron Mine's application to increase iron ore production to 6 million tonnes per year from 4.2 million tonnes per year.

However, in October, the federal government approved the increase, which is allowed in the Nunavut Agreement.

Paul Crowley with WWF-Canada wrote a letter to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Jonathan Wilkinson, criticizing government intervention in Nunavut Impact Review Board decisions. (Travis Burke/CBC)

WWF sent a letter to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans earlier this month with its concerns that Baffinland was putting pressure on the minister, and that the decision "may have the unintended effect of undermining the integrity of the NIRB's process."

"In the end it smacks of influence. Even if that's not the case, that's the perception," said Paul Crowley, vice-president of Arctic conservation with WWF-Canada.

"In order to keep the Nunavut Impact Review Board process as integral as possible, we think the minister should really be very careful in reversing decisions that come to the minister from the board," Crowley said.

Baffinland refused to comment on WWF's letter. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it was reviewing the letter, but did not respond to a request for an interview.

Baffinland's CEO Brian Penney shakes hands with PJ Akeeagok, the president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. (David Gunn/CBC)

Baffinland and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) sought Ottawa's approval to increase production and shipping limits to avoid a shutdown of operations. The mine reported a record 5.1 million tonnes of iron exported during this year's open water season.

"When proponents need changes they can apply for a certificate. That's what Baffinland did when it realized it was going to hit the threshold for the production limit," said Tara Arko, director of technical services with the NIRB.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board decided against approving a production increase for Baffinland because the board didn't have enough information on how the mine would mitigate environmental impacts, said Tara Arko, Director of Technical Services. (Submitted by Tara Arko)

Back in August, NIRB denied Baffinland's request because it didn't have enough information about how the company would mitigate environmental impacts. QIA then sent a letter with information about QIA and Baffinland's environmental strategy to federal ministers.

But those documents couldn't be considered by the NIRB after its decision was made, according to Arko.

"We can't look at any more information on the record following that," Arko said. "We consistently work with parties to encourage them to get all information on the record as part of the assessment."

Because they didn't have that information, the NIRB's decision didn't consider socio-economic benefits related to the Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement between Baffinland and QIA, which could also explain the federal ministers' approval, Arko said.

In Pond Inlet, people are open to using royalties from the mine to improve life in the community, according to Jayko Alooloo, a former chair of the Pond Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization.

Jayko Alooloo says royalties from Baffinland's Mary River mine could help nearby communities. (submitted)

But he and other community members have noticed changes to sea mammal behaviour related to increased trucking and shipping in Milne Inlet. Fewer narwhals are migrating to Eclipse Sound, he said.

"Even with mammals decreasing in this area, if there were royalties, that would help the community," said Alooloo.

WWF says the ministers' approval should adhere to the public process carried out by the NIRB. It also criticized the federal government for failing to create and enforce a marine monitoring program in the area affected by Mary River mine.

"Baffinland is a good corporate citizen, but their main goal is to get ore out of the ground and off to market," Crowley said. "Whereas the protection of the environment is a public good, and I think the government should be looking out for our interests there."

The ministers' approval means Baffinland will be able to produce and ship more iron next year as well.

The company is working with the NIRB to determine the fate of phase two of the project, which hopes to build a northern railroad to transport iron ore from the Mary River mine site to Milne Inlet. Community consultations and a hearing are expected in early 2019.


  • A previous version of this story included a direct quote from Tara Arko that in fact CBC had paraphrased. It has been corrected.
    Dec 28, 2018 11:36 AM CT