Environment minister says ‘no authority’ to investigate iron ore dust

‘There’s nothing I can do,’ Joe Savikataaq says

Premier and Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq, seen in this 2020 picture, says he does not have the authority to investigate iron ore dust at Baffinland’s Mary River mine because the mining company’s activity falls under federal government jurisdiction. (File photo)

By Corey Larocque

Nunavut Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq says it’s not up to him to look into any adverse effects that iron ore dust from Baffinland’s Mary River mine has on people, animals and the environment.

“I don’t have that authority. There’s nothing I can do,” Savikataaq, who is also the territory’s premier, said in an interview Friday.

On Thursday, he advised a group of 11 Nunavummiut who had asked him to investigate the impact of the dust their concerns are “not within the jurisdiction of the [Government of Nunavut] to investigate.”

Earlier this week, the group filed an application under the territory’s Environmental Rights Act, asking Savikataaq, in his role as Nunavut’s environment minister, to open an investigation into the dust that settles around the mine. Some of the applicants belong to a group known as the Nuluujaat Land Guardians, whose members staged a one-week protest and blockade at the mine site in February.

They called the presence of iron ore dust “widespread and destructive” and said it was killing vegetation, impacting animal life and adversely affecting water sources for people and animals.

Nunavut’s Environmental Rights Act allows anyone with a concern to ask the environment minister to conduct an investigation.

But Nunavut’s environmental law doesn’t apply in this case because Baffinland’s approval for the mining activity was granted by the federal government, which supersedes the territory’s authority.

“Section 2 of the Environmental Rights Act does not apply where a person or corporation is authorized under a federal act to carry out the activity,” Savikataaq explained.

“They operate under their certificate, and their certificate is federal.”

Savikataaq suggested the Guardians group should bring its concerns about the iron ore dust to the Nunavut Impact Review Board or to the federal Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs department.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. takes about six million tonnes of iron ore a year from its Mary River site. It is currently seeking approval from the Nunavut Impact Review Board for a proposal that would double its capacity to 12 million tonnes a year.

The company says it needs to increase output to make the mine financially viable. Company spokesperson Heather Smiles said this week the proposal to build a railroad to transport iron ore from the mine to a port at Milne Inlet could reduce the amount of dust by 76 per cent compared to its 2019 levels.

Savikataaq said his response was hand-delivered to the group’s lawyer Lori Idlout on Thursday.

On Thursday, the group issued a statement that “expressed regret” at what it called Savikataaq’s “refusal” to open the investigation it called for.

Despite losing its plea for an investigation, the group said it believes Baffinland is required to “minimize dustfall and to contain the dust” and it warned it might take further legal action.

Savikataaq said it was “unfair” for the group to characterize his inability to open an investigation that way.

“We don’t have the authority to investigate,” he said.

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(19) Comments:

  1. Posted by The law is the law but… on

    He may not have the authority to open an investigation but you would think the premier has some power to lobby his federal counterparts…

    “Not my file” is the way the GN operates

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    • Posted by Allan Mullin on

      As the premier not only does he have the right to step up. He has the utmost responsibility. Very sad to see the premier take such a position. Will be interesting to see what other MLA’s think of this position he has

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  2. Posted by Huvaguuq on

    What about the Nunavut lands outside the federal certificated lands?

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  3. Posted by CB on

    Hiding behind federalism and the division of power because you don’t want to address a politically difficult situation is shameful. While your powers may be limited, you are the Minister of the Environment! You can do – even if it’s just sending a letter or calling your federal government contacts – SOMETHING. Stop trying to pass the buck.

    Maybe there isn’t any problem with the dust at all – but it’s your responsibility to take your constituents concerns seriously.

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  4. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    I fail to see how a territorial Environment Minister (also the Premier) can actually say that they don’t have jurisdiction over a mining project that is operating within the territory.
    .
    Okay, the mine is operating based on federal approval. That does not mean that it can ignore territorial environmental regulations. One would think that the GN would be first in line at the Nunavut Supreme Court asking for a cease & desist order if possibly toxic dust is being strewn over the landscape.
    .
    I’m certainly no expert on whether the dust is toxic, if it is coming from the iron ore transport, or from the trucks driving on the road, and what effects if any it has on the wildlife. But shouldn’t the GN find out?.
    .
    As for them having no jurisdiction – complete and utter B.S. IMHO.

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  5. Posted by Name withheld on

    As a Premier even if you do not have the jurisdiction , you clearly have a say to have it investigated and have it directed to the appropriate contact…

    Makes you wonder if he knows how to do anything instead of sayin umm

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    • Posted by Ian on

      Yes, now get rid of NTI,DIOS,NIRB,NPC,NWB,and give the elected public gov.the decision,and see if they can do any worse,with the royaltys.

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  6. Posted by Me on

    Nunavut very insufficient environmental laws, Inuit representation GN side almost none

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    • Posted by JB on

      This kind of insolent attitude has to eventually come to an end. ‘No Inuit representation GN side’? You’re kidding right? The subject of the article is an Inuk AND the Minister of Environment AND just happens to be the Premier of Nunavut.
      .
      Not sure where you draw your logic from (don’t ask me to speculate), but it seems to me that the absolute top representative in the entire Government of Nunavut happens to be an Inuk.

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  7. Posted by Disgraceful on

    What a disgraceful stance you have taken, Mr. Premier. To say there is nothing you can do is not believable and should really read “there is nothing I will do”. This is not leadership.

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    • Posted by JB on

      The Inuit, through their Government of Nunavut, have a very interesting relationship with the Federal Government. There’s definitely a lot of “not enough is being done”, but there also seems to be some of this “well, it’s up to them” going on. The only way I can rationalize the Premier’s position is to assume he’s being opportunistic or intimidated.

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  8. Posted by Free on

    Reminds me of another great political leader… Brian Tobin, former federal fisheries minister!
    Respected the limits of his authority and despite public pressure decided to allow spanish fishermen continue to overfish in international waters…
    Oh, wait, he didn’t do that! He put those guys through a legal rigamarole and seized ships and put on a great show for the public! Much like Premier Joe, the great talker ought to!

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    • Posted by Whose dollar on

      Federal gov has obligation to ensure environment is safe. so ask them for their report. Dont think you need investigation just a question Can we see the report.

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  9. Posted by Vote Out QIA on

    Instead of going down alleys that can’t help yoy like this, maybe take control of QIA and deal with this through the lease with Baffinland. Oh right, only 17% of Inuit vote in their leadership.

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  10. Posted by Be a Leader Joe on

    I guess this means the Premier does not believe in devolution, if he did he would be using the opportunity to show that Nunavut can produce serious leadership on issues of concern. Instead we get this passive acceptance of, well… “whatever Pappy Trudeau says is how it is, let’s just wait and see.”

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  11. Posted by North guy on

    Maybe no authority but he does have the power to push some buttons to get it looked into,guess the mine has him in their back pocket.

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  12. Posted by Jimmy on

    If phase 2 is approved.
    Everything gets put inside a building and the ore dust is eliminated.
    Simple as that.
    No trucks on the road.
    No crushing outside.

    Sadly this is all about money. It’s a shame

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