Clyde River wants Supreme Court to weigh in on seismic testing

Clyde River hopes Canada's highest court will grant the hamlet leave to appeal August's seismic testing decision from the Federal Court of Appeal.

Lawyer Nader Hasan says this is a 'David vs Goliath' fight, but Clyde River will keep fighting

Clyde River, Nunavut, is still fighting to stop a consortium of companies from conducting seismic testing in the waters nearly the community. The hamlet fears the blasts from the air guns used in the tests will scare away, hurt or even kill marine wildlife Inuit rely on. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

The Nunavut hamlet of Clyde River has filed an application for leave to appeal its seismic testing challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Last year, the National Energy Board granted a permit to a consortium of three companies, TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company ASA, Petroleum GeoServices and MultiKlient Invest AS to conduct the tests in the Davis Strait, up and down the length of Baffin Island.

In August, the Federal Court of Appeal denied Clyde River's request for a judicial review of that decision.

 "We're up against opponents with essentially unlimited resources: two billion-dollar oil companies and the Government of Canada," said Nader Hasan, the lawyer representing the hamlet.  

"It really is a David versus Goliath kind of fight, but we feel like we have justice on our side and we're going to continue fighting."

Seismic testing involves the use of air guns to search for oil and gas deposits.

Inuit fear that these extremely loud guns have the potential to scare off, injure or even kill the marine mammals they rely on as a traditional food source. 

'It's a no-brainer'

For Canada's highest court to take the case, Clyde River will have to convince it of two things: the Federal Court of Appeal made the wrong decision in this case and the issues the case deals with are of national importance. 

"With respect to the seismic testing case, our view is that it's a no-brainer that this is an issue of national importance," said Hasan. 

"There was a lot riding on this case for the Inuit of Nunavut."

The hamlet is arguing the National Energy Board failed in its duty to meaningful consult Inuit before granting the testing permit.

Hasan says the Federal Court of Appeal agreed that, given the potentially devastating effect of the tests on local Inuit, the duty to consult was at its highest. 

"Despite accepting that argument, the Federal Court of Appeal went on to conclude that what the Inuit got was high level consultation. And we know that's just not true."

Hasan says it is hard to predict if the Supreme Court of Canada will agree to hear the case, as it takes only a small number of cases every year.

If the hamlet does not get its day in court, Hasan says the Federal Court of Appeal's decision will be the lasting precedent — which could have a "huge effect" on the duty to consult aboriginal people on major extraction projects.

But for the people of Clyde River, where the cost of food is far higher than in most of southern Canada, Hasan says the case is of the utmost importance right now. 

"If seismic testing harms [marine] animals or drives them away or kills them, you're looking not just at an economical disaster, but a human disaster. 

"What's at stake for the people of Clyde River is food security."

Read the court application here