North

Nuluujaat Land Guardians countersue Baffinland, claim environmental damages

The Inuit protesters who formed a temporary blockade at Baffinland Iron Mine’s Mary River mine last year, have filed a statement of defence in a lawsuit launched against them by the company — and launched a counterclaim of their own. 

Lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop Baffinland's sound contamination, dust pollution

Nuluujaat Land Guardians formed a week-long blockade at Baffinland Iron Mines's Mary River Mine site in February 2021. A lawsuit filed by Baffinland accuses the group of trespassing, unlawful interference with economic interests and mischief. (Submitted by Lee Inuarak)

The Inuit protesters who formed a temporary blockade at Baffinland Iron Mine's Mary River mine last year, have filed a statement of defence in a lawsuit launched against them by the company.

And, they've also launched a counterclaim of their own, alleging environmental damages related to the mine. 

In February of 2021 the Nuluujaat Land Guardians formed a week-long blockade at the Mary River Mine, operated by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation about 176 kilometres from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, in protest over a mine expansion, which among other additions, would see Baffinland double its output of iron ore each year.

A lawsuit filed by Baffinland Iron Mines in the Nunavut Court of Justice that same month accuses the group of trespassing, unlawful interference with economic interests and mischief. In early March, a Nunavut judge issued an injunction in relation to the case, banning protesters from obstructing the mine's airstrip and tote road. 

Baffinland's original suit named five defendants, alongside "John Doe and Jane Doe" and "all other persons unknown to the plaintiff." The statement of defence and counterclaim was filed by three of those named — Tom Naqitarvik, Christopher Akeeagok, Johnathan Pitula — who their lawyer, Anne Crawford, referred to collectively as the Land Guardians.

The latest court documents were filed as the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) is reviewing a request from the company to carry on extracting ore at a similar rate as recent years, and while the federal minister ponders what to do with the NIRB's recommendation that the mine not be allowed to expand as planned

The Nuluujaat Land Guardians' statement of defence, filed July 12, shows just how far apart the two sides are. 

The document takes issue with almost every aspect of Baffinland's suit, including that the mine site is "remote" and accessible only by aircraft or ship, which the blockade temporarily shut down. The Land Guardians maintain that the site is "regularly accessed by land in winter and sits in harvest lands" of nearby Inuit communities. 

The Guardians also take issue with Baffinland's claim that their blockade presented a critical safety issue by preventing medical flights from using the airstrip. They maintain that they offered to permit medical evacuation flights to occur, if required. 

The Mary River Mine, operated by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, is about 176 kilometres from Pond Inlet, Nunavut. (Submitted by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation)

The Guardians assert that they allowed deliveries of food and medications to proceed in spite of the tote road blockade. 

And they claim the blockade caused "no irreparable harm" to the company, in part because any losses of iron ore sales at the time were "fully mitigated by the increased world prices for iron ore" at the time the blockade was in effect. 

Guardians seek an injunction of their own

The statement of defence includes a counterclaim against the mining company, filed in the name of "the right to protect the environment," which seeks an injunction on Baffinland's activities. 

The counterclaim focuses on sound contamination from shipping in Arctic waters, which the Guardians claim has led to a significant reduction in viable habitat for beluga and narwhals. It also focuses on contamination by iron ore dust, which they claim has affected large areas outside of the mine. 

Sheena Akoomalik brandishes a copy of the Nunavut Agreement during a protest outside the Pond Inlet Community hall in February 2021. (Submitted by Shelly Funston Elverum)

"The reductions in/loss of these marine species impairs the physical, mental and social health of the Defendants and other Nunavummiut through a loss of food security and social and cultural losses which impact their relationship to the natural world, and their stature, wealth, identity and heritage," the document reads. 

Further, the document claims that neither the marine noise nor the ore dust have been authorized by the NIRB because neither are "within the authority of any regulatory agency to authorize."   

The court documents say the Guardians, as residents of Nunavut, have the right to protect the environment and on behalf of the people of Nunavut to protect it for future generations.

The Guardians want an order requiring Baffinland to remedy the damage caused and an order that Baffinland pay satisfaction or compensation for the damages caused to anyone holding and exercising hunting rights in the affected area.

In a statement, Baffinland's head of stakeholder relations, Peter Akman, described the counterclaim as "frivolous," adding that parts of the document "represent a clear lack of understanding or intentional mischaracterization of Baffinland's operation and mining in general."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Tucker

Journalist

Amy Tucker is a digital reporter with CBC North. She can be reached at amy.tucker@cbc.ca.

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