Baffinland Iron Mines’ bid to expand operations at its Mary River mine rests of the shoulders of the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) and the federal government.

The Mary River mine, 160 km south of Pond Inlet, could produce 12 million tonnes of iron ore annually if Baffinland Iron Mines’ Phase Two expansion proposal is approved by the Nunavut Impact Review Board and the federal government.
Hark Nijjar Photography

Getting to that destination has been a protracted affair with hearings being extended at the request of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated in November. The Inuit land claims organization called for more time to gather and review information.

And it’s a staggering volume of information.

As of February there were close to 1,300 documents registered in NIRB’s Baffinland Phase Two file. The first correspondence dates back to Oct. 29, 2014 when the mining company initially proposed the expansion, but the proponent’s plans have been revised a few times over the years, also creating delays.

Covid-19 has since entered the picture and is wreaking havoc with timelines:

Click here for other stories on Nunavummiut involved in the mining industry: Nunavut Mining 2020.

As it stands, Baffinland is prepared to spend an estimated $900 million to hike production to 12 million tonnes of iron ore per year, up from the existing six million tonnes – formerly 4.2 million tonnes before a temporary increase was granted. The higher output would result in 176 dry bulk vessel voyages annually from the port at Milne Inlet, and 20 train trips per day along a proposed 110-km railway from the Mary River mine to the port.

NIRB is tasked with assessing input from all parties, considering potential impacts such as dust, interruption to caribou migration, possible effects on marine life and how all of that can be minimized. The board also considers socio-economic factors and it can attach conditions to address concerns.

As with most major assessments, many of NIRB’s 26 staff have been involved with the Baffinland Phase Two file “at one time or another,” according to Ryan Barry, the organization’s executive director. There are two full-time review board technical advisers whose primary duties focus on the monitoring program for the Mary River mine, he noted.

Nunavut Mining requested feedback from stakeholders on NIRB’s role in the Baffinland Phase Two assessment, or any general comments in regards to NIRB’s performance. Here’s what we received:

Aluki Kotierk, President of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated: “For the Baffinland Mary River Phase Two review, NTI is focused on ensuring compliance with the clear and fair process set out in the Nunavut Agreement, which provides for Inuit rights.

In our view, it is important for members to have all the information before them and to participate fully and fairly in the process. NTI will continue to advocate for the Nunavut Impact Review Board to have access to all relevant information that allows them to make their decision in a comprehensive way. A critical component of the evidence before NIRB must be Inuit knowledge and the considered views of Inuit from impacted communities. For a fair process, Inuit require access to all technical submissions in Inuktut, as well as the time and resources to review the complex material. Communities must be better supported as their submissions on this project are critical.

The support to communities should include adequate participant funding to allow for technical and legal assistance. There is currently some participant funding available to communities, but there continues to be issues in accessing adequate resources in a timely way. For a process that meets Inuit involvement obligations, NTI continues to advocate for a formal participant funding program established through regulations that ensures consistent resources for Inuit participation.”

Statement from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association: “QIA has confidence in the Nunavut (Impact) Review Board as an institution of public government to provide leadership on reviewing applications for development project expansions in the territory. The process regarding the review of the Mary River Phase Two proposal has been unique with Baffinland being afforded numerous opportunities to provide additional clarifying information. QIA would welcome a shift in the process that will allow the Nunavut Impact Review Board the ability to assess the adequacy of information provided by the proponents prior to advancing review timelines.”

Deborah Harron-Thomson, communications manager for Baffinland Iron Mines: “What I can say is that we remain totally committed to the hearing process and Phase Two moving forward.”

David Qamaniq, Tununiq MLA: “NIRB is trying to do their best to balance the environment and industry, but… whatever NIRB decides about a certain project, the minister of Northern Affairs has the final say whether the project can go ahead or not. That’s one of the setbacks that has been put in place… that’s why the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement was signed, so that Indigenous people would have a chance to have their say about a certain project.”

Andrew Dumbrille, senior specialist, sustainable shipping for WWF Canada: “I will say that the NIRB decision to suspend the Phase Two public hearings last November was a good one. It was clear that more engagement with communities and other intervenors was needed. WWF supported the NTI motion during the hearings to suspend.”

Dominique Girard, Agnico Eagle’s vice-president of Nunavut operations: “Everywhere it’s getting more complicated, permitting and social (responsibility), the bar is always rising for mining and also for other industries. But we don’t see something different in Nunavut than we see in Quebec or Ontario. Honestly, I don’t have anything to complain (about) or to say about the NIRB process… We respect their process as we do elsewhere with our different divisions.”

Ken Armstrong, president and CEO of North Arrow Minerals: “In general, the NIRB side of things has worked quite well… At the earlier stage (of development), I think NIRB has been stable and predictable, for the most part.”

Fraser Institute annual survey of mining executives 2019: “Of the three territories, Nunavut’s process was judged more transparent than that of the Northwest Territories or Yukon: 57 per cent of respondents for Nunavut indicated that a lack of transparency was a deterrent to investment. The feedback was worse for the Northwest Territories (80 per cent deterred) and Yukon (100 per cent).

Among the territories, the lowest percentage of respondents, 20 per cent, were able to acquire permits in six months or less in the Northwest Territories. Nunavut, where 57 per cent of respondents indicated that they received their necessary permits in less than six months, performed better than the Yukon, where 43 per cent indicated that this was the case.”

Fact file
Nunavut Impact Review Board facts and figures

Mineral exploration and mining as a share of NIRB’s screening assessments

2019: 44 total screening assessments; three related to mineral exploration and mining; and one mining project certificate reconsideration completed

2018: 71 total screening assessments; seven related to mineral exploration and mining; three mining project certificate reconsiderations completed and one review of a mining proposal completed

2017: 97 total screening assessments; 14 related to mineral exploration and mining; and two reviews of mining proposals completed

2016: 76 total screening assessments; 14 related to mineral exploration and mining; and two mining project certificate reconsiderations completed

2015: 54 total screening assessments; seven related to mineral exploration and mining; and one review of a mining proposal completed

-In addition to mineral exploration and mining, NIRB regulates areas such as scientific research, tourism, marine-based activities, site cleanup and remediation, infrastructure and municipal development.


Screening assessments have a legislated 45-day timeline. Most of NIRB’s assessment are completed within that limit, although formal statistics are not kept, according to NIRB executive director Ryan Barry. Extensions usually run several weeks to allow for additional public commenting and for project proponents to respond to those comments, he noted.

Timelines for full environmental reviews and project certificate reconsiderations vary widely depending on the scope of the application, according to Barry.


NIRB received approximately $9 million in total in 2019-20 through the Government of Canada. A 55 per cent increase in funding was granted to NIRB in 2013-14., In 2013, then-chair Elizabeth Copland made a presentation to a federal committee explaining that NIRB’s “core capacity is already stretched to the breaking point.”

Board members (up to nine)

Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq, Baker Lake, acting chair

Guy Alikut, Arviat

Phillip (Kadlun) Omingmakyok, Kugluktuk

Madeleine Qumuatuq, Pangnirtung

Allen Maghagak, Cambridge Bay

Catherine Emrick, Calgary

Uriash Puqiqnak, Gjoa Haven

(Board members are appointed by the Government of Canada and Government of Nunavut from nominations made by the federal and territorial governments as well as by Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and Makivik Corporation)

NIRB staff

Twenty-six positions, up from 19 in January 2015

Head office

Cambridge Bay

Stakeholder funding to participate in the Baffinland Phase Two regulatory process through Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada:

2019-20 (to early February) – $168,054

2018-19 – $219,873.40

Sources: Nunavut Impact Review Board and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada


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