Nunavut board rejects Oceans North motion to suspend iron mine assessment

Review board concludes financial document not relevant to its final hearing

Chris Debicki, vice-president of policy development and counsel for Oceans North, presents Oceans North’s motion on Nov. 2 to suspend the NIRB’s assessment of Baffinland’s phase two proposal for expansion and allow for the filing of a preliminary offering circular from Baffinland and an affidavit from Oceans North researcher Georgia MacDonald. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Emma Tranter

The Nunavut Impact Review Board has dismissed a motion from Oceans North to suspend the review board’s assessment of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s railway-based phase two expansion plan for the Mary River iron mine.

In front of a packed audience in Iqaluit’s Cadet Hall, the board presented its ruling on the motion from Oceans North, and two other motions, during the late afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 3. A public hearing on the phase two expansion is currently being held in Iqaluit from Nov. 2 to 6.

The notice of motion filed by Oceans North on Oct. 29 asked the board to suspend its proceedings until the NIRB had the chance to review a document called a preliminary offering circular.

“The board finds that the preliminary offering circular is a confidential document that was not widely or publicly available and should not be posted on the board’s public registry,” Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq, the board’s chair, said on Nov. 3.

“The board has concluded Baffinland’s communications about financing and forward-looking statements about eventual expansion plans is not relevant,” Kaluraq added.

In that document, which is a pitch to potential investors, Baffinland appears to tell investors that the company may use its proposed 110-kilometre railway to ship up to 18 million tonnes of iron ore each year through its port at Milne Inlet by 2021.

That’s in contrast to the 12 million tonnes of iron ore Baffinland has publicly said it will ship via the proposed railway as part of the phase two development.

In its motion, Oceans North also asked that the document be made public on the NIRB’s website, along with an affidavit from Oceans North researcher Georgia MacDonald.

That document did appear, on Oct. 29 and part of Oct. 30, on a public registry list related to the review board’s consideration of the Baffinland expansion proposal.

Oceans North alleged that regulators would not be able to properly assess the phase two expansion project, because Baffinland failed to disclose the full scale and impact of the project to both the NIRB and the public.

But Baffinland said the document raised a “confidentiality issue” and removed it from the NIRB’s public registry.

On Nov. 2, during the first day of the technical hearing, Oceans North presented its motion to the NIRB. About 100 people packed into Iqaluit’s cadet hall to watch the proceedings. All other intervenors in the technical hearing also had a chance to comment on the motion.

Brad Armstrong, legal counsel for Baffinland, told the board that although Oceans North has the right to be involved in the proceedings, its application to suspend the review was “without foundation.”

“They now want to simply throw a document on the table which is a very detailed financial document. Which is entirely outside of their interest, outside of their expertise,” Armstrong said.

“Oceans North knows full well that the application before you for phase two is a proposal based on 12 million tonnes…. The offering circular was a document prepared for banks and other investors who might want to lend money to the company.”

Armstrong added that the document was “clearly meant to be confidential.”

“There is some reference in the document that the company was looking at an expansion to 18 million tonnes, but that’s not what the offering circular says to the investors. It’s clear and truthful and transparent that the application is for 12 million tonnes…. It’s perfectly sensible and regular for a mining company to be taking a few steps ahead,” he said.

Chris Debicki, vice-president of policy development and counsel for Oceans North, said he would be happy to provide all the correspondence by which Oceans North obtained the documents and that the process they followed was legal.

“I think it will be clear that we did this in an open and transparent way and in no way breached any confidentiality,” Debicki said.

Debicki also rebutted Baffinland’s comment that the document was confidential and therefore should not be shared.

“There’s no rule that says I’m going to stop reading…. That’s not a legal argument. It’s just a scare tactic and this is bullying,” Debicki said.

“It’s a curious strategy, frankly … to say to the community and to say to the board, you can’t see information that we’re happy to share with potential investors.”

Both the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. said they had not had time to review the preliminary offering circular could not take a position on the motion.

However, the QIA has filed a letter to the NIRB stating that they cannot support Baffinland’s phase two expansion.

But both Pond Inlet’s and Igloolik’s representatives, along with the World Wildlife Fund, supported suspending the proceedings and filing the preliminary offering circular on the NIRB’s registry.

“We are concerned in proceeding with the hearing if we cannot confirm, based on documents submitted by Oceans North, what Baffinland is considering to be the ultimate project scope for this development. We are considered that the Nunavut Impact Review Board may be limited in its assessment of the entire project during the proceeding” said Amanda Hanson Main, technical adviser for the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization.

The board also ruled on a motion from the Mittimatalik HTO to add time to the agenda to allow intervenors to present during the hearing’s community rountable sessions.

It ruled that although intervenors would not be given time to present during the community roundtables in Iqaluit, they will be able to present 10-minute summaries of their presentations during the community roundtables in Pond Inlet on Nov. 8 and 9.

The board also deferred a ruling on a notice of motion from Baffinland’s lawyers asking the NIRB for permission to file an 11-page summary of its consolidated financial statements.

That summary will explain why the project “cannot sustain production of 6 million tonnes per annum on an ongoing basis and that the Project is only financially viable at a greater rate of production,” the Baffinland notice of motion says.

But Baffinland told the NIRB they want that financial summary to be kept “entirely confidential” and that it should not be placed on the review board’s public registry.

The public hearings continue in Iqaluit at the cadet hall at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning and will be broadcast on Isuma TV.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Who is representing employees? on

    Note to Baffinland employees:
    The QIA, Hamlet of Pond Inlet and MHTO have spoken at the hearings AGAINST this project.

    If they speak for you, that’s great and you can sit back and allow them to advocate for you at the risk of your jobs.

    On the other hand, if you want the Mary River project to continue and you (and your kids and their kids) to have good paying jobs to provide for their families, you may want to get out to the meetings in Pond Inlet later this week and have your voice be heard….

    • Posted by Baffinland Doesn’t Care About Their Employees on

      This is absolutely false. Jobs are secure. The mine is profitable at current production levels, no jobs are at risk if Phase 2 is not approved. This fact is more than apparent from the financial reporting in the Offering Circular itself (it is a public domain document and was posted on NIRB and available for download before being pulled). Likewise, the same story is told by Dr.John Loxley’s report on the Mary River project– the mine is most certainly economically viable at current levels.

      The narrative around the mine somehow being at risk of closure has been created by Baffinland, it’s a stunt to scare communities into supporting this expansion….the message is very much “if you don’t support phase 2, you’re out of a job”. How dare Baffinland exploit their employee’s fears to get more support for Phase 2. Shame on Baffinland for making hardworking people believe that their livelihoods are at stake. This is a terrible thing for a company to do to people who are just trying to feed their families.

  2. Posted by Sled dog on

    To practice law in Nunavut, does a lawyer need to be registered as a current member of the law society of nunavut. Debicki not on the active roster that i viewed today.

    • Posted by Rebecca on

      In Canada you can practice law in any province or territory providing you’re registered in any one of them. I think Debicki is either from Winnipeg or Halifax (aka MB or NS law society), it looks like Oceans North has offices there.

  3. Posted by Baffinland Doesn’t Care About Their Employees on

    This is absolutely false. Jobs are secure. The mine is profitable at current production levels, no jobs are at risk if Phase 2 is not approved. This fact is more than apparent from the financial reporting in the Offering Circular itself (it is a public domain document and was posted on NIRB and available for download before being pulled). Likewise, the same story is told by Dr.John Loxley’s report on the Mary River project– the mine is most certainly economically viable at current levels.

    The narrative around the mine somehow being at risk of closure has been created by Baffinland, it’s a stunt to scare communities into supporting this expansion….the message is very much “if you don’t support phase 2, you’re out of a job”. How dare Baffinland exploit their employee’s fears to get more support for Phase 2. Shame on Baffinland for making hardworking people believe that their livelihoods are at stake. This is a terrible thing for a company to do to people who are just trying to feed their families.

  4. Posted by Moses on

    Oceans North is a US funded group trying to stop Canadian infrastructure being built by Canadians so US companies do it for us and charge us to use our own resources.

    They are part of the same group that blocked the safer than rail oil pipelines and were funded by US oil money from the Rockefeller group, an oil and gas company.

    “US based Pew Charitable Trust, with its Canadian/American subsidiary organization Oceans North..” http://www.northernpublicaffairs.ca/index/tag/oceans-north/

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