A Nunavut court has sidelined a joint seismic program by agencies of the Canadian and German governments, scheduled to get under way later in August to map eastern Canadian Arctic waterways for possible oil and natural gas resources.
Judge Susan Connor of the Nunavut Court of Justice issued an injunction Aug. 8 to prevent the geological Survey of Canada, a branch of Natural Resources Canada, and the German Federal Institute of Geoscience from carrying out seismic tests in Lancaster Sound and other waterways near the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage.
She sided with the concerns expressed by five Nunavut communities in the area, saying they would “suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted,” arguing the seismic blasts would harm whales, polar bears and other marine life and change migration patterns.
The Nunavut and Canadian governments opposed the injunction, with the federal government referring to a consultant’s report that said the testing would have little or no impact on marine mammals.
Connor said the fact that the report contained protocols to mitigate the impact of seismic activity on marine wildlife supported the conclusion “that there are impacts.”
German icebreaker en routeThe German institute, whose icebreaker Polarstern is en route to Lancaster Sound off the north coast of Baffin Island with permits from the Nunavut Research Institute to conduct tests on the sea floor, has expressed frustration with the apparent breakdown of communication between Canadian governments and the local Inuit.
There was no indication whether the Canadian or Nunavut governments will appeal the ruling.
Natural Resources Canada indicated in June it was prepared to scale back the seismic work so that Lancaster Sound would be less affected, although no further steps were taken beyond adding an extra observer to the research ship.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which initiated the court action, said it was unfortunate it had to take that route to get a hearing.
Association President Okalik Eeegeesiak said he hoped the court ruling would hasten the day when the advice of Inuit and their associated organizations was sought before projects were approved.
The association and the two governments are currently studying a proposal, including a C$5 million federal feasibility study, to designate Lancaster Sound as a national marine conservation area.
Dennis Bevington, a federal Member of Parliament for the Western Arctic, endorsed the Inuit case and criticized the federal government for failing to pay heed to those concerns.
The seismic work was planned for August and September in Lancaster Sound, Jones Sound and eastern Baffin Island.
“It’s unfortunate that the Inuit association had to go to the expense and trouble to go to our judiciary system to get relief from something that should be handled by the executive of government,” he said.