Nunavut mayor overjoyed that seismic testing won’t happen this year
“It means we can spend the summer still narwhal hunting without any migration problems”
Jerry Natanine is about 3,000 kilometres from Nunavut as the raven flies and he’s talking on a borrowed cell phone from a location near Pictou, Nova Scotia, but there’s no mistaking his pleasure, even at that distance.
Natanine found out this morning, May 27, that the companies who are currently in a legal position to conduct seismic testing off the east coast of Baffin Island have decided to put their project on hold for this year, 2015.
“I heard this morning and I thought, ‘Wow! For real, eh?’ Yeah, it was really good,” said Natanine, mayor of Clyde River and an iconic face of Aboriginal defiance across Canada and beyond.
“We didn’t win the court case yet but they’ve agreed not to do anything this year.”
Natanine is attending a Governor General’s leadership conference in Nova Scotia and has been busy throughout the day, but said he looks forward to tonight when he can start making calls back home and start celebrating the temporary reprieve.
“It brought a sigh of relief to me and it means we can spend the summer still narwhal hunting without any migration problems with the whales,” he said. “It means a lot to me because it means a lot to the people.”
Nader Hasan, the Toronto-based lawyer representing Natanine and other Clyde River opponents, said the companies planning the seismic testing, known by the acronyms TGS, PGS and MKI, informed him May 25 that they have gone to the National Energy Board to say this year’s program has been cancelled.
They did not offer reasons, he said.
But Hasan told Nunatsiaq News that he had communicated his wishes to the proponents — that he hoped they would maintain the status quo while all parties await the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal.
The court’s three-judge panel heard the case on April 20 in Toronto in an expedited hearing the parties hoped would facilitate a decision prior to July 1, when seismic testing was set to begin.
Hasan said he was planning to wait until mid-June before going to the court to request an interim order preventing the sea-bed mapping project from going ahead until a decision was rendered.
But now he won’t have to do that.
“In my view, that’s a welcome development,” Hasan said.
“I think it’s a sensible decision because it involves respecting the court’s process,” he said. “I’m also pleased because it allows my clients — Mayor Natanine, the people of Clyde River — to do what they ordinarily do in the summer rather than be focused exclusively on future court battles.”
Natanine, along with the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organization and the Hamlet of Clyde River, are asking the federal court to overturn a 2014 decision of the National Energy Board to allow seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.
Opponents are concerned about what impact the underwater air guns used to survey the sea floor could have on marine wildlife, and they also argue the consultation process leading up to the NEB’s decision was inadequate and flawed.
Natanine said he’s hopeful about the outcome of the judicial process.
“Justice is on our side. We’re going to win this case,” he said.
But if he doesn’t, and if the people of Clyde River continue supporting the fight, they’ll appeal it to the Supreme Court of Canada, he said.
“Yes, we talked about that and that’s a route we would take and discuss with hunters and trappers and the hamlet and the people of Clyde River in general.”
Hasan said this reprieve also allows opponents to make their case to the Supreme Court before the 2016 ice free season, in the event that the federal court rules against them.
Greenpeace Canada, which has been supporting Natanine’s fight as part of its Arctic campaign against oil and gas development in the North, issued a statement May 27 saying they are relieved with the companies’ decision.
“Baffin Island Inuit have expressed strong and widespread opposition to seismic testing in their waters. The decision to cancel seismic surveys this year is good news for human rights, and hopefully both industry and the federal government will get the message that they should not be forcing projects on communities without consent,” the news release said.
“This announcement should give hope and inspiration to all Indigenous land defenders and all people fighting for a greener and more peaceful tomorrow.”