The federal Department of Northern Affairs and its minister, Dan Vandal, met with representatives of a group opposed to a proposed mine expansion that is currently undergoing a hearing with the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
The group of hunters from north Baffin communities, who call themselves the Nuluujaat Land Guardians, blockaded the tote road and airstrip at Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River mine during a public hearing into the company’s expansion plans in February.
Baffinland wants to double the mine’s output, as well as construct a railway and port, but opponents believe that activity will have a negative effect on the surrounding environment, which includes a marine conservation area.
Both Vandal and the opponents of the mine expansion said their meeting, which was over the phone on May 27, was positive.
A statement the guardians issued afterward said both sides agreed not to speak about Baffinland’s proposed expansion.
“Guardians spoke about the strengths and values of their communities and land-based economic options for current and future generations of north Baffin residents,” reads a June 2 statement from the group. They want Vandal to understand “the choices and preferences of residents who do not wish to be involved in mining,” their statement said.
Vandal’s press secretary, Antoine Tremblay, said the department regularly meets with organizations that operate in the North, “including those interested in the Baffinland project proposal,” such as the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Oceans North.
“However, the Minister does not meet on those projects while the Board conducts its hearings, to ensure the Board’s process remains independent and arms-length,” Tremblay wrote in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
When speaking to reporters in April, Vandal confirmed he had met with Baffinland prior to the review board’s January session — which was a resumption of the November 2019 hearing — calling it “entirely appropriate” because it occurred while there were no current sessions.
“When they [Baffinland] ask for a meeting with the minister of northern affairs, I think it’s entirely appropriate that we meet and we talk about the issues,” he said.
While the Nunavut Impact Review Board is between sessions in its hearing on the Mary River mine, its assessment of the expansion is ongoing. For example, opponents of the mine’s expansion plan submitted documents in mid-May regarding a document Baffinland submitted on narwhal monitoring programs, according to NIRB. Baffinland had until June 4 to reply.
Tremblay did not clarify when the northern affairs department considers the public hearing into the Mary River mine expansion to have begun, or how it qualifies an adjournment in the process.
In April, in the House of Commons, Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq hinted that it would be unfair for the minister to meet with representatives from Baffinland, but not the land guardians, even “after multiple requests.”
“Reconciliation requires meaningful interaction with Inuit. Instead, the Liberals are ignoring requests to provide transparency and fulfill their obligations. Has the minister or his staff met with the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation in the last six months?” Qaqqaq asked on April 16.
David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News