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Court voids tax assessment on Mary River Project lands

A court ruled that the Government of Nunavut failed to properly notify the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) and its lessee Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. that the Mary River Project lands were open to tax reassessment.

The judgment voids the Government of Nunavut's Territorial Board of Revision (TBR) notice that it would reassess the tax value of the land.

To assess the land, the TBR must issue a new notice to Baffinland and the public.

Although the tax assessor's office sits across from the QIA offices, a 2016 notice took 16 days to reach QIA and several more days for its officials to become aware of the notice.

The TBR issued a notice on Nov. 24, 2016 that it would reassess the property's taxation value but fumbled its delivery of that information, according to court documents.

The 2016 notices of assessment for Mary River Lands were delivered to the Iqaluit post office on Nov. 28 but QIA only received the notice on Dec. 13.

After it arrived at QIA, an employee left the relevant documents in an unmarked file in the Lands Department and failed to forward it to upper management.

Baffinland solicitors were only aware of the documents by Jan. 23 – after the 45 day complaint period.

Under its commercial lease agreement with QIA, Baffinland is obliged to pay all rates, tax charges and assessments charged for the Mary River Lands.

Despite repeated attempts by the Government of Nunavut to assess the tax value of the Mary River Project, a September court judgment has nullified its 2016 notice of assessment. NNSL file photo.
Despite repeated attempts by the Government of Nunavut to assess the tax value of the Mary River Project, a September court judgment has nullified its 2016 notice of assessment. NNSL file photo.

QIA and Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. disagree with the Government of Nunavut's attempts to collect fee simple taxes on the aforementioned land.

They maintain that under the Property Assessment and Taxation Act, as well as the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, they are exempt from property taxation.

QIA and Baffinland filed consecutive complaints against the revision board about the 2016 notices on Jan. 23 and 24, 2017.

In a six-line email, seven months later, the secretary of the revision board said the TBR would not hear complaints because they were filed more than 45 days from the stamped date of mailing.

Gerald "Gerry" Towns is the project manager for the Nunavut Property Assessment Office for the Department of Community and Government Services (CGS).

In a deposition, Towns stated that he mailed a notice of assessment on or around Nov. 27, 2016 to QIA as the assessed owner and not Baffinland.

It was practice to send it only to the assessed owner, unless requested otherwise, he said.

Three days later, Towns advertised in Nunavut News and Kivalliq News to advise the public that the notices were issued and that QIA had 45 days to respond.

No public notices were published elsewhere and no attempts to deliver electronic copies to QIA or Baffinland solicitors were made, according to court documents.

QIA argued the TBR was reasonably expected to "exercise the courtesy" of forwarding an electronic copy of the notice to QIA lawyers.

It also argued the TBR failed to place a notice on the community bulletin board in the main lobby of the Igluvut Building where QIAs offices are located.

The chief financial officer of Baffinland made attempts to contact Towns by phone between Jan. 5 and Jan. 17 to determine if the assessment notice was sent, but was unable to reach him.

Newspaper ads taken out by the TBR did not specify the dates the notices were mailed, making it impossible for the viewer to discern when the 45-day response period ended.

Justice Earl Johnson concluded in his judgment that the TBR was wrong in finding that QIA's complaint was out of time.

He also ruled that in the absence of any evidence on the precise date the notice of assessment was mailed, it couldn't determine when the response period ended.

Because the 2016 notice was nullified by Justice Johnson, the GN will have to notify QIA and Baffinland again of a pending assessment.

Two notices of assessment from 2014 and 2015 are still under appeal.