The Issue: QIA vs Baffinland
We Say: Is there enough common ground?

Anybody following the ongoing saga between Baffinland’s Mary River iron mine and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) has to be suffering from whiplash, as the Inuit organization has shifted its position on support for the mine’s operations a few times over the past few years.

In 2018, QIA supported – and lobbied the federal government on behalf of Baffinland – a production increase in iron ore output to six million tonnes per year (Mt/a) from 4.2 Mt/a, despite the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommending against it. With support from the Hamlet of Pond Inlet and Mittimatalik HTO, federal approval for that increase came Sept. 30 of that year.

When the mine was applying for the increase to six Mt/a, it claimed employees’ efficiency had allowed them to produce more than their allotted production at the time, but would have to lay off employees if the elevated rates were not allowed to continue. The World Wildlife Fund suggested that “Baffinland has levied a threat of slowdown that is based on its own noncompliance (i.e. producing and shipping over and above permitted amounts) and that it is now seeking retroactive approval rather than having applied for amendment ahead of modifying its operations.”

Baffinland now wants to double that production to 12 million tonnes per year, but claims that shipping so much ore via tote road makes little financial sense, instead looking to build a 110-kilometre railway from the mine site to the port in Milne Inlet.

The company says the $1-billion railway will help reduce expenses, but the idea has been largely opposed since it was initially floated in 2017.

In written submissions to the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) in Jan. 2018, members of the Pond Inlet, Mary River Phase Two Review Committee stated: “We are concerned that the railway may represent a greater barrier to Inuit travel than the currently used tote road.”

The committee also detailed how caribou and other wildlife might be adversely affected by the raised railway. Details on potential impacts are still scarce and the lack of these crucial details has been brought up in meeting after meeting over the past few years.

Tununiq MLA David Qamaniq stated in the legislative assembly at the end of February that his “constituents are wondering why the territorial government seems to be able and willing to impose restrictions on caribou hunting in this region to protect the health of the species, but does not seem able or willing to impose restrictions on the mining companies to protect our land, water, and wildlife.”

Iron ore dust choking waterways, increased shipping affecting narwhal and fish populations, caribou migration being interrupted and more concerns continue to be raised.

Government agencies, both federal and territorial, and environmental groups have submitted hundreds of pages of questions and concerns over the proposed expansion and more than 2,000 documents have been filed with NIRB.

There exists so much information that it is nearly impossible for any one person or organization to comb through it all for the relevant details that might give us the answers to so many of these burning heath-related, socio-economic and environmental concerns.

It’s hard to find the common ground when it seems with every inch given to the mining company, another mile is asked after, without full and equal consideration of the long-term impacts on a way of life that must survive after the mine’s life is extinguished.

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