Polar bear consultation a sham, Redfern declares

Session “was one of the worst I’ve ever attended.”



A recent federal consultation in Iqaluit on the status of polar bears under the Species at Risk Act was nothing more than a sham exercise, Madeleine Redfern has told the minister responsible in an open letter.

The consultation “was one of the worst I’ve ever attended in my life – and I attend a lot of community consultation meetings,” Redfern said in a May 18 letter to federal environment minister Jim Prentice.

A graduate of the Akitsiraq law program, Redfern is executive director of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which has been holding community ­consultations through­out the Baffin region over more than a year.

She said the information provided by the federal government in the Iqaluit consultation “was so cursory and superficial as to be effectively meaningless.”

The consultation process is required because COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, has assessed polar bears as “a species of special concern.”

Before the government ratifies COSEWIC’s assessment under the Species At Risk Act, it must consult with stakeholders, particularly in this case, the Inuit.

But Redfern said in her letter, “there is absolutely no way COSEWIC could make an informed or justifiable decision to list polar bears as special concern based on what the community was provided at this consultation meeting.”

Redfern said in an interview that she read over 10,000 pages of documentation on polar bear management when she prepared her own 50-page submission on the issue to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But even with all that background knowledge, she said, the information provided at the consultation was nowhere near sufficient for her to make an informed response regarding the COSEWIC recommendation.

The people running the meeting “were just going through an exercise, and not interested in real consultation,” she added.

The poorly advertised April 23 consultation was supposed to share information about the process with interested Iqalummiut, and to seek their concerns and opinions.

Redfern said about 20 people attended the three-hour meeting at the Anglican parish hall, most of them Inuit directly involved with wildlife harvesting. There was a general level of frustration with the process, she said.

Neither Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Government of Nunavut, nor the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board was represented, and Redfern was told the GN chose not to participate as it is planning its own consultation.

Such a duplication of effort and resources by two different levels of governments also wastes community members’ time by requiring them to participate twice, she said.

Nor were any scientists or technicians available to respond to questions.

“The community is not given the opportunity to question or challenge the researchers directly on their research methods, models, theories or conclusions,” Redfern wrote.

“Rather, the community is asked and expected to accept this information, despite the fact that the participants know that there are significant and fundamental problems with the western science on polar bears.”

Redfern wrote that she checked with experts who agreed listing the polar bear will mean more federal government involvement in management of the species, and will ultimately affect Inuit hunting rights.

“Your department’s facilitator repeatedly told Inuit that the listing of polar bear as special concern under SARA would not affect their harvesting rights. This is not entirely correct, as SARA may have the potential to seriously limit and restrict Inuit harvesting,” Redfern wrote.

“It is unacceptable and unethical to not fully inform or worse yet misinform people about their constitutionally protected rights under their land claim.”

She said she was appalled that there was only one English and one Inuktitut copy of the full COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report available at the consultation.

The main pieces of information available at the consultation were a printout of a Power Point presentation, and a summary report.

On examination, Redfern found the summary did not accurately reflect the full report, a point she later confirmed with the authors of the report (who did not write the summary).

Back in January, after attending a national round-table on polar bears called by Minister Prentice, Gabriel Nirlungayuk, NTI’s director of wildlife, told Nunatsiaq News: “we now expect that Inuit from all of the four Inuit land claimant regions, and all relevant co-management boards in Canada, will be substantially consulted” regarding COSEWIC’s proposal.

But the so-called consultation in Iqaluit has left Redfern shaking her head in disgust and disbelief.

She wrote Prentice that she felt “a duty and obligation” to inform him about the poorly-run consultation because she has appreciated his balanced approach on polar bear management and support for the co-management systems in place.

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