Baffinland decision shows Nunavut resource development regulatory system is doing its job

The Nunavut Planning Commission has made a clear decision to safeguard local communities with its determination that the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation Mary River project does not comply with the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan. 
The Commission’s April 8 decision surrounds an application by Baffinland to ship ore out of the Mary River mine for 10 months of the year – instead of shipping only during the ice-free summer months – through Milne Inlet, Eclipse Sound and Baffin Bay. It was deemed not compatible with the land use plan because using ice breakers to ship the ore during the winter would cause too much damage to community hunting and travel routes, and would have the potential to harm wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Supply ships in the Inuit community of Clyde River (also known as Kangiqtugaapik), Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. © Peter Ewins / WWF-Canada
Supply ships in the Inuit community of Clyde River (also known as Kangiqtugaapik), Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. © Peter Ewins / WWF-Canada

“Ice is an essential part of life in the North,” the decision states. “For people, for polar bears, for seals and other animals in the North, ice is a bridge – both metaphorically to the past and present Inuit values and activities, and also actually as a fact. Ice physically links Inuit to their Culture and Values.”
We at WWF-Canada echo the Commission’s views about the importance of the area, both ecologically and culturally, for Inuit in the region. That the proposed shipping is viewed as incompatible with the land use plan should send a strong signal to resource managers in Nunavut: that this is one of the richest Arctic marine ecosystems in the world, and Inuit have depended on it for countless generations. For decades, Inuit have been calling for the special protection of this area as part of a proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area, which could include appropriate commercial shipping.
Baffinland now has several options to consider for the future of the Mary River project. The company still has the option to continue with its original plan of only shipping ore during the summer, or they could amend the project proposal so that it complies with the land use plan. More complex options include applying to the Nunavut Planning Commission to amend the land use plan, re-evaluating the project proposal entirely, or applying to the appropriate federal minister for an exemption from the land use plan, in this case Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
It is our hope that Baffinland will not take this last option to seek an exemption from Minister Valcourt. The Mary River mine is the biggest industrial project Nunavut has ever seen, and the regulatory bodies – born from the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement – should be commended for taking a precautionary approach. Such an important decision should be made in Nunavut, respecting the spirit of the Land Claim, in a transparent manner, and not in Ottawa behind closed doors.