Nuluujaat Land Guardians talk mining with Northern Affairs minister

The Nuluujaat Land Guardians told Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal about the importance of planning out a mine’s life-span and the economic ups and downs that cause “dislocation” in communities.

Guardians appeal injunction; expect a hearing in July

A view of Milne Port. If an expansion at the Mary River Mine is approved, Baffinland says there would be around 168 ore carrier visits to the port during the summer production season. (Submitted by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation)

The Nuluujaat Land Guardians, the group who blockaded the Mary River Mine's airport and trucking road in February, met with Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal and his department to discuss the preferences of Inuit for a land-based economy.

They said they want the minister to have a "well-rounded view" of North Baffin communities and to "understand the choices ... of residents who do not wish to be involved in mining or the extraction economy," according to a news release from the group.

In February, the guardians travelled more than 200 kilometres from Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay to blockade in opposition to Baffinland's plans to double its output from six to 12 million tonnes of iron ore, which is shipped to European steelmakers.

Baffinland's plans to ramp up production include a 110-kilometre railway North to the Milne Inlet port, and increase shipping in the area. But the guardians said increased shipping traffic through narwhal habitat would harm the environment and their harvesting rights.

The expansion is under an environmental review by the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB), however the hearings have been plagued by delays. The review was supposed to wrap up in April, before yet another prolongation following an outbreak of COVID-19 in Iqaluit.

The NIRB hearings will culminate in a recommendation on whether to allow the expansion to proceed, where Vandal himself will have the ultimate decision. Although in their news release, the Guardians claimed they didn't discuss the Baffinland expansion with Vandal.

'Economic loss and dislocation' from mining

The guardians told Vandal about their experience with the boom and bust nature of the mining economy — namely, "its impact as a temporary economic surge followed by significant community loss and dislocation."

"Guardians spoke about the strengths and values of their communities and land-based economic options for current and future generations of North Baffin residents," according to the news release, adding they want mines to plan according to a mineral deposit's lifespan rather than temporary or shorter plans. 

The guardians said they plan to follow up on their talks with Vandal with Nunavut's regional director about enforcement of environmental procedures under the federal Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act, which establishes legislation for the Nunavut Planning Commission and the NIRB.

The guardians said Vandal "indicated he would make every effort" to visit Pond Inlet when travel resumes. 

Seeking costs, questioning 'clean hands' of Baffinland

The guardians also said they and Vandal didn't discuss the injunction matter currently before Nunavut's courts. 

In May, a judge upheld Baffinland's injunction, forbidding the guardians from blockading the site. If they return, the RCMP can remove them.

The guardians appealed the decision, and expect a hearing in Nunavut's Court of Appeal in July.

The guardians said their lawyers will submit final written questions to Baffinland officials before seeking a motion to ask for security for costs and to "contest the 'clean hands' of the mining corporation as it sought the initial injunction," the release states.

To argue "clean hands" successfully in Canada, a party must show their legal opponent had inequitable behaviour related to the injunction.

In a court proceeding, a person who is being litigated (in this case, the guardians) can seek security for legal costs, so that they can be compensated if the plaintiff, Baffinland, loses their case.

In a statement to CBC News, Baffinland declined to comment on the guardians' news release.

"It would not appropriate to comment on matters before the court at this time," a spokesperson said.

With files from Beth Brown