Nunavut judge says no to protesters, yes to Baffinland
Injunction states protesters may not impede mine site, especially tote road and airstrip
Even though their blockade has ended, the protesters who call themselves the Nuluujaat Land Guardians are now forbidden from returning to the Mary River iron mine to impede or obstruct activities, especially the tote road and airstrip, judge Susan Cooper has ruled.
And if they do return to impede operations, the RCMP is authorized to remove them, Cooper stated.
That’s the essence of a decision released Wednesday, in which Cooper granted a request from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. for an interlocutory injunction to prevent more blockades.
An interlocutory injunction is a court order preventing somebody from doing certain things until after a court action is concluded.
In this case, the injunction against the protesters will remain in place until after the Nunavut court has decided on a court action that Baffinland filed against the protesters alleging trespass, nuisance and interference with economic interests.
“It is clear that there is a serious issue to be tried,” Cooper said of Baffinland’s case.
And she said the injunction does not prevent the protesters from expressing their views in other ways in other places.
No clear reason for protest
In saying yes to Baffinland, Cooper rejected an argument made by lawyer Lori Idlout, who claimed that because the protesters have left the site, there is no need for an injunction.
That’s because Idlout, who represents only three of the seven or more people who set up the blockades at Mary River, could not confirm the protesters have agreed not to return.
Also, no clear justification for the blockade was presented in court.
“In addition, counsel for the defendants has not articulated the reason for the protest,” Cooper said.
“The protest and its reasons have been the topic of discussion in the media. There may be more than one reason for the protest. It may be that the individual protesters are there for different reasons,” Cooper stated.
That means there’s no guarantee they won’t return.
At the same time, promised meetings between Inuit leaders and the protesters have yet to occur — but it’s unknown how those meetings will progress.
“If the defendants are not satisfied with their meetings with Inuit leadership, the continued process of the [Nunavut Impact Review Board] hearings, or any other aspect of the mine project, there is a real possibility that the protest will continue,” Cooper said.
Judge rejects Indigenous rights argument
Cooper also rejected an argument from Idlout that the protesters were asserting Indigenous rights guaranteed by the constitution.
She said that’s because Indigenous rights with respect to resource development in Nunavut are settled, through the Nunavut land claims agreement.
And it’s not in dispute that Baffinland, whose activities are legally permitted, has complied with all of its regulatory obligations under the land claims agreement, Cooper said.
Also, the protestors are not alleging inadequate consultation or accommodation in relation to the current Mary River project, she said.
She said that if the protesters don’t like Baffinland’s expansion proposal — which the Nunavut Impact Review Board is still reviewing — their proper remedy is a judicial review.
But she noted that because they don’t represent any of the designated Inuit organizations, “their ability to advance collective rights may be limited.”
And if they don’t like how Mary River benefits are distributed, “then their remedy lies with the Designated Inuit Organizations,” Cooper said.
The Nuluujaat protesters drove by snowmobile Feb. 4 from Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay to Mary River, where they blockaded the tote road and airstrip until Feb. 11.
Baffinland said in court filings that this action cost the company at least $2 million a day and prevented aircraft from supplying food and supplies for about 700 workers.
The defendants named in the injunction are Namen Inuavak [Inuarak], Tom Naqitarvik, Jonathan Pitula, Christopher Akeeagok, Andy Kalluk, John Doe, Jane Doe, and any other persons who participated in the blockade.
Guardians stand by their actions
The land guardians, in a statement released late Wednesday, said they stand by their actions at Mary River and feel confident they can oppose expansion of the Mary River mine in other ways.
They said they’re disappointed in Cooper’s decision but look forward to presenting what they call “new evidence.”
In their statement, they allege this new evidence shows Baffinland has already spent heavily on the Phase 2 expansion and suggests the company “may be operating extra-legally” in doing so.
That allegation has not been proven in court.
The land guardians have the right to go back to court to change or set aside Cooper’s judgment, as long as they provide Baffinland with two days notice.