Amnesty International joins Nunavut hamlet in fighting seismic testing

But international human rights group denied legal intervenor status


Tyson Palluq holds up a sign during a protest against seismic testing off the coast of Baffin Island. (FIGHT AGAINST SEISMIC TESTING IN NUNAVUT FACEBOOK PAGE/AIMO K. PANILOO)

Tyson Palluq holds up a sign during a protest against seismic testing off the coast of Baffin Island. (FIGHT AGAINST SEISMIC TESTING IN NUNAVUT FACEBOOK PAGE/AIMO K. PANILOO)

An international organization commonly associated with campaigns to protect people around the world from being tortured, abused, imprisoned without due process and otherwise mistreated has turned its sights on Clyde River, Nunavut.

Amnesty International issued a statement March 13 to say they believe Clyde River’s battle against seismic testing in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay is not just about protecting the environment, it’s about protecting human rights.

“When we talk with Indigenous leaders in other countries, they’ll say, ‘If only Canadian corporations would uphold Canadian standards when they come to our country because they assume the standards are good in Canada,” said Craig Benjamin, Amnesty’s indigenous rights campaigner.

“We tell them, ‘Well, actually, the exact same issues are coming up here as well.’”

The Hamlet of Clyde River, mayor Jerry Natanine, and the community’s hunters and trappers have launched a judicial review with the Federal Court of Appeal in an effort to overturn a decision by the National Energy Board allowing a group of companies to conduct seismic testing off Baffin Island’s east coast.

That judicial review will take place April 20 in Toronto.

Amnesty International asked to be granted intervenor status in the case so they could argue that inadequate consultation with local people, and Clyde River’s expressed dissent in the aftermath, amounts to a human rights violation.

The court denied their application but gave no reason for the decision, Benjamin said.

Amnesty International currently has intervenor status in a judicial review of the NEB’s July 2014 approval of the Northern Gateway Pipeline project, which is also before the Federal Court of Appeal.

The duty to consult Aboriginal people in Canada is especially high given that they are still recovering from past colonial harms. So there’s actually a higher risk of harm when new projects are considered, Benjamin said.

“The [NEB] seems to think that the duty of consultation is simply procedural,” he said — just a series of boxes to check off: meetings held, letters sent.

That shows a misunderstanding of the meaning of consultation, he said.

Also, Clyde River is small, many people there either don’t speak English, or English is a second language, and they don’t have the resources to fight or mobilize public opinion like a southern community.

“And so the remoteness of a community counts against them,” he said. “What’s happening with this Clyde River case, we think, is enormously important. But the attention to it is really so minimal at the national level.”

Amnesty is not opposed to this project in particular or any future resource extraction activity, he added.

What they oppose is the process used to gain access to those resources, a process that requires Canada — under a constitutional obligation and also as ordered by the country’s highest court — to properly consult Aboriginal people when there is potential impact on their culture and livelihood, he said.

In a 17-page response to the intervenor request, the seismic test proponents — a consortium made up of three companies known by the acronyms TGS, PGS and MKI — argued that Amnesty had no business jumping in so late in the game.

“Although the intervenor goes to great lengths to emphasize international human rights issues, at no time does it elucidate or explain how its participation will assist the determination of any of the factual or legal issues related to the issuance of a GOA in the present proceeding,” they said in their submission.

A GOA is a Geophysical Operations Authorization and it’s what the NEB issued to the proponents in June 2014, granting them permission to use a sound array off the coast of Baffin to map the seabed for oil and gas reserves over a five-year period.

They are hoping to begin doing so during the ice-free season this summer.

The proponent’s intervenor response also said allowing Amnesty to be an intervenor would cause undue burden and potential delays.

“It would result in the need for complex and detailed research and submissions, additional evidence and likely delay in the current hearing schedule,” they argued.

In any case, the proponents argue, they are not in the business of drilling for oil or gas. They are merely mapping the ocean floor.

That’s a red herring, Benjamin says. If they discover a wealth of reserves, and sell that information to oil and gas companies, then the push to get at those hydrocarbons will quickly follow.

“It is clearly the first step to an intention to open up off-shore extraction. That’s such a huge decision, and there’s so many potential impacts, that it’s important that decision-makers get it right from the beginning,” he said.
Greenpeace Canada has also thrown its support behind the Clyde River opponents.

Romeo Saganash, the NDP member for Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou, introduced a private member’s bill that would compel the federal government to adapt laws to ensure they complied with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

That includes provisions guaranteeing “free, prior and informed consent” of Aboriginal peoples prior to allowing any development projects that could potentially impact traditional lands.

That bill received second reading in the House of Commons March 12.

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