Don't draw us into NTI lawsuit: Nunavut premier

The Nunavut government should not be brought into a $1-billion lawsuit between Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) and the federal government, Premier Paul Okalik said.

The Nunavut government should not be brought into a $1-billion lawsuit between Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) and the federal government, says Premier Paul Okalik.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Okalik said his government wants to stay out of the suit, which the Inuit land-claims organization filed in 2006 because it claimed Ottawa has failed to implement the territory's land claim agreement.

In September, federal lawyers filed a motion asking the court to add the Nunavut government as a defendant in the lawsuit.

If they succeed, Nunavut Tunngavik would be suing the territorial government as well — something NTI and Nunavut government officials say they want to avoid.

"I will be asking our counsel to stay out of the lawsuit," Okalik said.

"We do not want to be defendants because we agree in a lot of ways with NTI that the federal government has to come to the table and do their part in implementing the land claim agreement."

Arguments will be heard on Friday

Lawyers for NTI and the federal government will make their arguments on the motion before Nunavut Justice Earle Johnson on Friday in Iqaluit.

Earlier this month, a federal official told CBC News that Ottawa wants the Nunavut government named as a defendant because the responsibility for implementing the 1993 Nunavut land claim is shared between the territorial and federal governments.

But Okalik said the land claim — which led to the creation of Nunavut in 1999 — was negotiated between Ottawa and the Inuit, meaning there is no reason why the Nunavut government should have to defend itself.

"We acknowledge we have to do more, but with the limited resources that we do have, we would appreciate some federal help," Okalik said.

"I often say that when we created Nunavut, we didn't amend the land claim agreement or the constitution of our country, which obliges the federal government to have responsibility for Inuit."

Ottawa has responsibility for Inuit people

Okalik cited the Constitution Act, which he said clearly states Ottawa's responsibility for Inuit people.

In the lawsuit, Nunavut Tunngavik alleges Ottawa has made 16 breaches of the land-claims agreement, such as failing to help offer Inuit training for government jobs.

Okalik said he agrees with NTI's position that Ottawa needs to do more to help Inuit get jobs in government, as well as meet other obligations under the land claim.

NTI president Paul Kaludjak told reporters that he was not surprised by Ottawa's move to drag the Nunavut government into his organization's case.

"It's bascally nothing new for NTI at this point, because it was happening all along since day one when we submitted our claim," Kaludjak said.

Both Okalik and Kaludjak said the legal action, should the federal lawyers succeed, would not affect the relationship between the government and NTI.