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Baffinland, hunters turn to court to sort out legalities of protests

Photography by: Hark Nijjar
Baffinland Iron Mines has turned to the Nunavut Court of Justice to prevent Nunavummiut from establishing blockades at the mine site again in the future. Hark Nijjar Photography

Baffinland Iron Mines was in court Saturday morning to request an order preventing Nunavummiut from once again blockading the Mary River mine airstrip and tote road, as occurred from Feb. 4-10.

Lori Idlout, the lawyer representing the protesters, contended that Baffinland's requested order from the Nunavut Court of Justice should not be granted because the defendants have already dispersed, they are law abiding and because the "relevant facts are not yet all before the court."

"It is extraordinarily premature" for Baffinland to seek a legal injunction so soon when the facts are not agreed upon, the legal issues are so complex and the materials are not all available to the defendants, according to Idlout. For the court to grant the injunction at this point in the legal proceedings would be "in the Canadian context… somewhere between unprecedented and extraordinary," she stated.

The protesters – comprising hunters from Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay known as the Nuluujaat Land Guardians – left the mine site during the evening of Feb. 10, in advance of a written interim injunction issued by the court on Feb. 11. They had parked snowmobiles and qamutiiks and erected tents and barriers on the airstrip and tote road for several days before that, according to Baffinland.

Some Inuit have expressed environmental and wildlife concerns as the mining company seeks to expand production, build a railway and increase shipping. The Hamlet of Pond Inlet has also raised a demand for a greater share of royalties to be directed to North Baffin communities. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association sent a joint letter on Feb. 10 agreeing to meet with the protesters over their "environmental goals" relating to the Mary River project.

In court on Saturday, Baffinland asserted its authority to operate the Mary River mine under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and stated that it has all the required permits.

"These provisions are important because the protesters claim that the (mining) project is on Inuit-owned land and they are exercising Inuit rights when blockading the airstrip and the tote road," Baffinland stated, adding that the protesters' actions thwarted critical flights and "had the potential for creating difficulties relating to the health and safety of the people" at the mine.

The defendants contested the "tenor and accuracy of the facts" in the legal statements filed on behalf of Baffinland. Cross-examination is scheduled for Feb. 18-19.

The defendants in this case are identified as Namen Inuarak, Daniel Inuarak, Tom Naqitarvik, Jonathan Pitula, Christopher Akeeagok, Andy Kalluk, John Doe, Jane Doe and “for all other persons unknown to the plaintiff at a blockade at or near Mary River."

About the Author: Derek Neary

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