NTI wins fisheries court battle against Ottawa

NTI has successfully defended the Inuit right to be given special consideration in the allocation of turbot quotas in Davis Strait.


Nunavut Inuit emerged victorious this week in a court battle over Davis Strait turbot quotas that began May 6.

The ruling, announced July 14 in Vancouver by federal court justice Douglas Campbell, means that officials with Ottawa’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans must genuinely listen to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board before deciding on turbot quotas for the Canadian side of the Davis Strait.

Justice Campbell found that a quota allocation announced April 7 by Fred Mifflin, who was then the minister of Fisheries and Oceans, was contrary to law.

Alan Braidek, NTI’s legal counsel, said the court decision is major victory for NTI that could affect other disputes between Inuit and various government departments.

That’s because, in his ruling, Justice Campbell provided a clear definition of the meaning of “consultation,” a definition that Braidek says NTI will now try to use in disputes with other government departments.

“Consultation and consideration must mean more than simply hearing,” Justice Campbell wrote in his ruling. “It must include listening as well.”

Nunavut Tunngavik President Jose Kusugak said the decision is a “triumph of Inuit rights.”

“I think listening is the key,” Kusugak said. “When we took this matter to court it was to protect the interests of Inuit fishers and to uphold our land claims agreement. NTI will always be prepared to take action whenver and wherever the land claims agreement should prevail.”

The dispute began April 7, when Mifflin had announced that the Canadian share of the Davis Strait turbot quota would increase by 1,100 tonnes.

But of that 1,100 tonnes, only 100 tonnes were allocated to the Nunavut region.

That would have meant that the Inuit proportion of the total quota would have fallen from 27 per cent in 1996 to 24 per cent in 1997.

As well, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board objected to Mifflin’s allowable catch increase, saying it could threaten the health of Davis Strait fish stocks. The Board argued that Mifflin had ignored their advice.

So on May 6, NTI President Jose Kusugak instructed NTI lawyers to start court proceedings to have the decision overturned.

NTI objected to the minister’s decision on three grounds:

The decision infringes on the sole authority of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to set harvesting quotas in the Nunavut land claim settlement area;
The minister failed to consider the advice of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in making his decision, something he’s supposed to do under Article 15 of the agreement;
The minister failed to recognize other parts of Article 15 that require governments to give special attention to offshore areas that are adjacent to Nunavut.
On July 14, Justice Campbell ruled in NTI’s favor, making the following key points:

He said there “must be meaningful inclusion of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in the government decision-making process before any decisions are made;
And he said that “in implementing this provision [Articles 15.3.7], the term “special consideration must be interpreted to mean that the communities in the Nunavut Settlement Area have priority consideration for licences in Zones I and II over any other competing party, and the allocations must clearly reflect this principle.
Braidek said he expects that the new DFO minister will make another Davis Strait turbot quota decision in two to three weeks.

When he does that, he’ll have the benefit of a new submission from the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board that’s based on the recent court ruling.

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