Abraham Kublu stands outside the Elders Qammaq in Iqaluit, on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2021, as part of a gathering to support hunters from Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay who are protesting at the Mary River mine. The mining company has filed an application for an injunction against the hunters who are blocking the mine's road and air strip in protest of its proposed expansion. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter

Nunavut judge orders protesting hunters to clear runway; mine seeks injunction

IQALUIT, Nunavut — A mining company wants a judge to order Nunavut hunters to stop blocking the mine’s road and airstrip in protest of its proposed expansion.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. is seeking the injunction in the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit. A hearing that was set for Wednesday was adjourned to Saturday.

Seven hunters from Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet, who call themselves the Nuluujaat Land Guardians, set up the blockade last week at the company’s Mary River mine on Baffin Island. They travelled for two days and more than 150 kilometres by snowmobile to get to the site.

Other hunters have since joined the protest.

Baffinland is in the middle of environmental hearings on its proposal to double the mine’s output of iron ore and build a 110-kilometre railway from the mine to the ocean for shipping. The railway would be the only one in Nunavut and the most northern one in Canada.

Some hunters and community members in the North Baffin region have said they are worried the company is moving too fast and not properly considering the effects an expansion would have on wildlife, including narwhal and caribou.

Nunavut Justice Susan Cooper on Wednesday issued an interim order requiring the protesters to allow workers at the mine to fly home. The order is to be in place until the hearing resumes Saturday.

Lori Idlout, a lawyer representing the hunters, said the group has not prevented medical or employee flights from using the airstrip.

“They have been reasonable in their approach … we don’t think an order is necessary,” Idlout said.

There are about 700 employees at the site.

In documents filed with the court, Baffinland says workers are on a three-week rotating schedule. Eighty-eight workers were to leave the mine on Tuesday and 84 more on Wednesday, it says.

“The longer that personnel who are scheduled to leave are stuck at the project site, the greater the possibility for escalating tensions,” says the company’s notice of motion.

“To allow the defendants, in effect, to hold them as bargaining chips for their own claims, is not in the public interest.”

Baffinland says the blockade has forced it to shut down the mine’s operations and to ground all flights, including those carrying food and supplies.

It also says the blockade is causing “significant financial losses” and could lead “to a large number of layoffs” if it draws out.

The hunters are “wrongfully and unlawfully” using the road and airstrip “as a staging grounds for a protest.”

Bruce Uviluq, a law student also representing the hunters, says in an affidavit that his clients told the company they were willing to let employees leave the site. The hunters let a bus carrying medical supplies pass the blockade this week.

Uviluq says the hunters are prepared to let flights land and take off one day a week. He disputes Baffinland’s statement that it will suffer financially from not transporting ore at this time.

“Breaks in shipping are common for weather, community events like dog team races, animal migrations and many more reasons,” he says in the affidavit.

A letter was also filed with the court from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which is the regional Inuit organization of the Baffin Island region, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the land-claims body representing Nunavut Inuit. The two groups say they do not condone the blockade and are willing to meet with the hunters to urge them to leave.

Pond Inlet Mayor Joshua Arreak said in a statement Wednesday that he wrote to Premier Joe Savikataaq and others involved asking to meet to resolve the blockade as soon as possible.

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