Canada wanted to offer Europe a partial ban on exports without consulting Inuit

Feds tried to bypass Inuit on polar bears



A federal plan to voluntarily restrict polar bear exports from four management areas may have been averted at the eleventh hour after strong protests from Inuit and Inuvialuit representatives on the federal-territorial Polar Bear Administrative Committee.

Environment Canada officials wanted to offer the ban to a Dec. 2 meeting in Brussels, Belgium of the Scientific Review Group for CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

But in a conference call last week, strong opposition from Inuit and Inuvialuit representatives on the PBAC convinced federal officials to back away from the proposal.

"I believe it has been back-burnered for a few days," Jim Noble, chief operating officer for the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, told Nunatsiaq News.

But it will come back, he added.

The NWMB had a staff person on the conference call, as did the Nunavut environment ministry, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

But by press-time this week no-one from Environment Canada, the GN or NTI was willing to speak to Nunatsiaq News about the issue. So the Nunavut government's position on the issue is not known.

The ban would apply to polar bears taken in the Kane Basin, South Beaufort, Western Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay management regions.

South Beaufort is the only polar bear management region in Canada outside of Nunavut.

The other three – Kane Basin, Western Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay – are among the 12 management regions that lie entirely or largely inside Nunavut.

Noble noted the Nunavut land claims agreement requires that when a government proposes any action that would affect Inuit, including their use of wildlife, Inuit must be consulted.

He added that discussion with members of the PBAC does not add up to consultation with the Inuit, even if there are Inuit members on the committee.

"Consulting with Inuit means consulting with the Inuit organizations, like NTI, and with the hunters and trappers organizations," Noble said.

There have also been over 100 legal rulings across Canada over the past three years alone where courts have said that any government decision that affects aboriginal rights must include processes for consulting and accommodating aboriginal people.

Noble said it's ironic that in proposing the voluntary ban, the Environment Canada representatives "are trying to protect us."

There is a fear, he said, that if Canada does not offer something to the European Union, the EU may use CITES to ban all trade from Canada in polar bear parts.

Doug Clark, a scholar-in-residence at Yukon College and lead author of a study on polar bear management, called the development of this situation between Canada and the EU, with Inuit organizations left out of the loop, "unsurprising."

Clark is the lead author of a study that found a growing breakdown in the relationship between Inuit hunters and government managers who rely on science.

Right now, he told Nunatsiaq News, "the scientific perspective holds sway," and Inuit traditional knowledge takes a distant second place.

An article by Clark based on the study is to be published in the December issue of the journal Arctic.

"When we wrote this paper, we worried that hunters would lose faith in the co-management system. That appears to be happening now," Clark said in a news release.

In an interview, he added that he is "surprised by the speed at which things are deteriorating."

The problem, Clark said, is that the management system was developed "in a simpler time, when climate change was not on the agenda and land claims were only a concept."

Now, he said there are four sets of stakeholders:

  • the Inuit and Inuvialuit who live with the bears, and who clearly have the most at stake in terms of livelihood and cultural identity;
  • the scientific management proponents;
  • environmental groups using the polar bear to "mobilize the public and pressure governments to act on climate change;" and
  • those who would deny climate change is an issue or that there is any reason to be concerned about polar bears.

He pointed out that the scientific management approach "has become strongly institutionalized."

At the same time, he said, Inuit and Inuvialuit voices "have been marginalized."

And now global groups from the south are clamouring for protection of the polar bear as a way of forcing a response to climate change.

As a result, polar bear management strategies have become "polarized and politicized." Clarke said, however, that it's not too late to save the system.

But he said it won't be a single solution, and it won't be just a Nunavut solution.

Still, a good starting point, he argues, is that scientific management advocates, who now wield most of the power, must make sure they fully understand the Inuit position.

Clarke said they can do that by becoming more involved with the Inuit on concrete, local concerns – like the problem with aggressive bears coming into the community in Arviat.

"Trust and respect are the two kinds of glue that hold co-management together. And that glue is running thin. They need to be repaired."

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