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Limitations on Baffinland regulatory meetings rankle MHTO chair

More than a dozen people were turned away from the Pond Inlet community hall because there was no more room for additional observers of the Nunavut Impact Review Board's community roundtable sessions on Baffinland Iron Mines, held Sept. 28 to 30.

There were at least 16 seats set aside for members of the public but about 12 extra residents were unable to be accommodated on the morning of Sept. 28 and another six that evening, according to Karen Costello, executive director for the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB).

Pond Inlet hosted community roundtable meetings last week on Baffinland Iron Mines' proposed phase two expansion at the Mary River mine. Eric Ootoovak, chair of the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, was not satisfied with the efforts to make the meetings accessible to the public.
photo courtesy of Shelly Elverum

The majority of the seats had to be reserved for NIRB staff, representatives of Baffinland and other groups who were making presentations, she noted. The total number of people present was capped at no more than 50, in accordance with the chief public health officer's pandemic restrictions.

Eric Ootoovak, chair of the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, expressed disappointment over the constraints on local participation.

“When residents are turned away at the door to meetings like these, they are not likely to come back,” Ootoovak told NIRB officials during his closing statement. “And other people will stay away, not wanting to be turned away from their own community hall and going to at a meeting where their input is supposed to be valued.”

He suggested that there should have been an overflow venue and that the meetings should have been available online or broadcast on the local radio station.

Costello explained that there was no second venue available in the community. She said anyone, including radio stations, could call into the audio line and play the feed through the radio in either English or Inuktitut. The local radio station in Pond Inlet was advised how to do this, she noted.

She added that members of the public who were turned away on the first day were provided several options to submit their questions or comments to the review board. Some residents returned over the next day or two and about a dozen sent written submissions, she said.

A separate venue – a meeting room at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit – hosted community representatives from Clyde River, Iglulik, Resolute, Sanirajak and Arctic Bay, along with various other stakeholders with an interest in the meetings. Arctic Bay Coun. Frank May was among them and he conveyed how impressed he was with the logistics in a letter to NIRB afterwards.

“Attending the roundtable meeting in Iqaluit was an extremely educational experience for me and I wish to thank the NIRB for giving me this opportunity, and the whole organization deserves a great deal of appreciation for making all of the arrangements to get the system set up so that people could attend at all of the venues,” May wrote. “It was truly a difficult logistical feat to have pulled off this conference in these interesting times.