Baffinland critics lament lack of a ‘red button’ to halt mine operations

Inuit Certainty Agreement calls for work to be paused during big environmental problems, company says

Sanirajak elder Enoki Irqittuq speaks during the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s public hearing on Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed mine expansion Thursday in Iqaluit. (Photo by David Venn)

By Nunatsiaq News

North Baffin residents continued to voice concerns about plans to expand the Mary River iron mine’s operations during a public hearing on Thursday.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board’s hearing into Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposal has two days left of in-person meetings that have been postponed a number of times since 2019.

Baffinland wants to build a 110-kilometre railroad from its Mary River site to Milne Inlet and double its iron ore output to six million tonnes per year.

Sanirajak elder Enoki Irqittuq, a former Amittuq MLA, said hunters pin the blame on the mine’s current operations for the fact there are hardly any walrus in the area.

He said Sanirajak has not received any money for compensation from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which receives the benefits from Baffinland to distribute to communities.

Eric Ootoovak, representative for the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, spoke to the same issue during Thursday’s morning session. He said Pond Inlet has yet to see the benefits from QIA.

In response, QIA President Olayuk Akesuk said there has been difficulty in getting benefit money to communities, but the association has since resolved the problem.

Many Inuit have expressed concern over the lack of a “red button” — a term used throughout the hearing for the idea that Inuit could halt mine operations if there is environmental damage.

“Inuit people from Pond Inlet, if they say they’re being impacted too much and there’s not much fish and narwhal and the bottom of the sea species are being impacted, so we’re impacted,” Ootoovak said.

“The red button is not there to push, or it’s broken because we can’t push it. Why?”

Lou Kamermans, director of sustainable development for Baffinland, said the Inuit Certainty Agreement signed by the company and QIA will offer Inuit a measure of control over the mine’s operations if the mine expansion is allowed.

If there’s a disagreement over the agreement that’s brought to arbitration and Baffinland loses, the company could have its commercial lease taken away, which would shut the mine, he said.

As well, the agreement specifies that if the company needs to respond to a “high-risk” environmental issue, the mine has to shut down for five days, Kamermans said.

The NIRB hearing is scheduled to end Saturday. After that, the board will review the information it has received since the start of the hearing in January. It then makes a recommendation to the federal northern affairs minister, who ultimately grants his approval for the mine expansion or rejects it.

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(23) Comments:

  1. Posted by Not science on

    Blaming the mine for no walrus is easy when you just want to find a reason to put blame. Kivalliq has lots of mines and has some of the healthiest caribou populations in the world, but if they were to decline I bet people would start pointing fingers at agnico eagle. These claims are not backed by fact, but simply heresay, which in any other cultural context would immediately be dismissed

    • Posted by iWonder on

      “which in any other cultural context would immediately be dismissed”

      Please tell us how you would quantify this statement? Because as it is I suspect this is also “Not Science”

    • Posted by Silas on

      People who do not hunt in the Kivalliq should not comment as they don’t know what or where the caribou migration routes have been for centuries past and present. The roads have redirected the routes that caribou have migrated for millennia. They have also allowed hunters who would not normally have gone the distances they are going now. This causes more caribou than ever to be harvested, especially by those who don’t know how to manage the meat properly. Traditional education and training for them is another story and should be done with the proper resources.
      The mine has created employment and brought much needed funds to the communities. Employing those who would otherwise have been on assistance and continually looking for odd jobs.
      However, it is a limited resource. I believe the mines should assist in trying to find long term solutions for unemployment in the future when they have gone. That would truly be a legacy that they could leave in the communities instead of just hand outs to the regional and territorial organizations who look out for their families or communities.

      • Posted by Misplaced Expectation on

        The idea that the mine should invest energy into employment after they have left might be understandable, but isn’t that the role of government or even KIA? People seem to expect the mines to do everything these organizations fail to do with their royalties and federal funding.

      • Posted by Sam on

        Silas,what are you smoking,have you no idea where all the royalty,and personal income taxes,payroll taxes go to,to the RIOS,Gov of Nu,these are the groups that should be dealing with legacy projects with their millions of dollars,civil servant mentality,

      • Posted by Steve Andersen on

        The Dempster hiway in the Yukon and the Prudhoe Bay hiway in Alaska has not affected the Caribou migration at all.The animals freely roam back and forth over it as they have always done.

        • Posted by Silas on

          Agnico Eagle has a legacy fund that they would like used in the communities. A company like that is able to do more than a government or Inuit organization that is ruled by a so called “democracy” where everyone and their dog has a say in how their funds will be distributed.
          As for the dempster highway and the road to the mine in Baker Lake cannot compare when you are not able to see fifty yards ahead of you due to the trees. On the tundra one can see for fifty sixty miles and the smell of fumes will end at only a few miles amongst the trees. On the tundra it will carry for miles around.

          • Posted by Kenneth A Zubko on

            I understand by your comment you have not been on the Dempster hwy.

  2. Posted by snapshot on

    It has taken QIA almost 10 years to resolve a problem to distribute funds?

    QIA already knows how to distribute things because they give out vouchers all the time. So distributing contribution funds to appropriate communities based on Agreement written in place should be easy thing to do, it’s written in the contract for f-sakes.
    No faith in QIA!

    • Posted by Right??? on

      To this point, what did PJ accomplish while in office at QIA that warranted his landslide victory in the Territorial election?

      • Posted by Check the Numbers on

        QIA’s 2019-20 report is available online. If Arctic Bay, Sanirajak, and Pond Inlet feel like they’re not getting any benefits from QIA, it’s because they’re not.
        Portfolio Market Value for QIA Legacy Fund: March 31, 2020 $61,657,758
        2019-20 Actual Spending = $1,381,895
        Amount that went to Pond Inlet = $53,000
        Amount that went to Arctic Bay = $18,950
        Amount that went to Sanirajak = $14,710
        Amount that went to Iqaluit = $580,000
        So, no wonder PJ won an Iqaluit seat in a landslide. Take from North Baffin and give to South Baffin. If I was an Inuk, I’d be pretty pissed too.
        Also, Nunatsiaq I think you should be doing the work I just did.

        • Posted by Math is fun! on

          Any particular reason you left out the over $1 million QIA distributed to Arctic Bay, Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Igloolik, and Sanirajak as shown on page 49 of that report? In fact, I can’t find the numbers you gave. Could you point out where in the report they are?

          • Posted by Relevant? on

            The reason I left that out is because I was looking at the Benefits and Legacy Fund annual report instead of the overall annual report. I’ll own that mistake. Updated numbers would be:
            Amount that went to Pond Inlet = $347,663 plus a dinner and a public hearing.
            Amount that went to Arctic Bay = $79,452 plus a dinner
            Amount that went to Sanirajak = $134,711 plus a dinner
            Amount that went to Iqaluit = $580,000 (which is their $75,000 QCAP, 73% of the $500,000 daycare subsidy allocation, and the entire $140,000 of the Opportunities Fund).
            I think the point still stands that around 39% (over $16 million) of all QIA revenue came from Baffinland, while 71% of expenses went to wages, benefits, and operating costs, and only about 2.5% (less than $1 million) of expenses made it to those 3 North Baffin communities mentioned.

  3. Posted by John on

    I am more concerned about the lack of visibility on a green or even yellow button… 4-5 years of research, public hearings and study for this project coming on the heels of a previous 4-5 years of public hearings and study for the Steensby project. Trying to build a mine and do development in the north seems like a lot of effort, red-tape and funding for consultants, Inuit organizations and government. Why do we make it so difficult for people to bring business, jobs and benefits to the north. If people are really looking for a big red button, it will be on the desk of any company that wants to do business in the north following a negative recommendation for Baffinland. Other businesses won’t waste the effort and it will be them, not Nunavumiut, pushing the red button.

  4. Posted by so where is the problem on

    So the article identifies one of the problems as QIA not distributing the allocated portions of the royalties from Baffinland to the communities. If the intent is to use this as an argument to oppose mine expansion it is terribly misplaced. The problem in this instance is not the mine but rather the Inuit Organization. Funds are in the hands of the organization, paid by the mine but stuck at QIA. How is that an argument for opposing mine expansion.
    And finally the millions of dollars that have been paid by the mines as royalties, in addition to the wages to local employees and businesses would not exist without the mining investments.

  5. Posted by Waiting on

    With the territories DIO, you or I will never see a cent go directly to a beneficiary
    It is British Rule and Law we live by. We poor inuit have never unite to see fully what royalties would have brought us but with the DIO. Good luck ppl. KIA central Arctic is the worst in the territory to divulge with all the handouts for the beneficiaries and bank it all they want into different accounts. Mines destroyed the lands and will continue to exploit the inuit out of every cent. Live and learn people and pass it on.

  6. Posted by Go and Vote on

    Inuit in these communities who feel they derive no benefit need to start voting and participating in QIA and NTI elections. You are being bled by an upper caste, who conveniently distract you with blaming the mine. Wake up.

  7. Posted by Roy Donovan on

    Since when did Inuit in this area start hunting walrus, Thought this was an activity that is of a bygone era?

    • Posted by snapshot on

      Since Inuit first laid their eyes on a walrus. You can smell it when you visit someone.

      What is more impressive is someone like you who has zero knowledge try to be part of discussion with something you have absolutely (never in your wildest dreams) no knowledge of, to the point of thinking hunting walrus was done 100 years ago.

  8. Posted by “Something is wrong with this picture” on

    NTI holds title to minerals on behalf of all Inuit of Nunavut; RIAs own the land. IOL Royalty are paid on production, but the money goes into a “Legacy Fund” invested and not used. It’s been stated time and time again that many Inuit want direct payments from the royalties but the issue still isn’t resolved. The benefits are coming from the Mining companies to the RIA’s. It is their responsibility to disburse the funds to beneficiaries, so please don’t blame the mining company if the community benefits are not there.

  9. Posted by delbert on

    After reading some of these comments. Some of those people who are against the mine expansion. Could change their minds if there was more money for them.
    Opposition like this is common in some countries in the world were mines operate.
    So mining companies are prepared to be black mailed. Just tell them what the price is, that will make people happy. If they feel it’s a fair price,they will pay the ransom.IF price is to high they will just leave.

  10. Posted by MonkaSteer on

    What’s the date by which the minister must make their decision by?

  11. Posted by He wants the benefit on

    Money is sent everywhere, people who didn’t get the free money in their own pockets are probably the ones complaining. I personally think Pond Inlet is over exaggerating to get more money for themselves. What about the people who support the community by spending the hard earned money in that community. They earned that money through Baffinland.

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