Canada’s Lancaster Sound Seismic Tests go to Court

The Nunavut Court of Justice is hearing the Qikiqtani Inuit Association's application for a court injunction Thursday at the Iqaluit courthouse. (CBC)Lawyers for an Nunavut Inuit group went to court Thursday, hoping to stop federal scientists from conducting seismic tests in Lancaster Sound, which is considered an ecologically rich area.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association filed a notice of motion with the Nunavut Court of Justice late Wednesday seeking an injunction to stop the Eastern Canadian Arctic Seismic Experiment from starting this month.

“We hope that that will stop it. If not, for … long enough for QIA concerns and QIA issues to be addressed,” association president Okalik Eegeesiak told CBC News before the hearing in Iqaluit.

The day-long court hearing is expected to stretch well into Thursday evening. As of late afternoon, government lawyers had not yet presented their arguments.

Testing to begin mid-August

The Geological Survey of Canada, which is part of Natural Resources Canada, would conduct the project to look for possible oil and gas resources in Lancaster Sound and several other eastern Arctic waterways.

The project is a collaboration with the German Federal Institute of Geoscience. A German icebreaker is already en route to Canada for the tests and is scheduled to arrive in Lancaster Sound on Aug. 16.

But the seismic tests, in which sound blasts would be transmitted underwater to map what is on the seafloor, have raised concerns among Inuit about the possible impact on narwhal, bowhead whales and other marine wildlife in Lancaster Sound.

The federal government has been working with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Nunavut government to study a proposal to designate Lancaster Sound as a national marine conservation area.

Ignored community concerns

The Inuit association, which represents the Inuit of Nunavut’s Baffin region, also argues that federal scientists ignored the concerns of people in nearby communities, despite a series of consultations that took place this spring.

Natural Resources Canada had suggested in June that it would scale back the seismic testing project so that Lancaster Sound would be less affected.

However, the project was not scaled back, although scientists added an extra observer on board the research ship and made other adjustments to the project.

The association’s lawyer, Peter Jervis, said the Lancaster Sound debate has become a serious land claim issue. He said he will argue that the project has violated the Inuit people’s rights to harvest wildlife and to take part in meaningful consultations.

Granted research licence

The Nunavut Research Institute gave Natural Resources Canada’s project a research licence last month, concluding that the seismic tests will not threaten wildlife.

But Western Arctic NDP MP Dennis Bevington, who supports the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s case, criticized the federal government for ignoring community concerns about environmental impact.

“It’s unfortunate that the Inuit association has 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 the government,” Bevington said.

In addition to environmental concerns related to the seismic testing itself, some Inuit have also worried that any oil and gas resources found in Lancaster Sound will lead to drilling there.

CBC News

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