The judge orders that the crew flights be conducted this week at the blockade of the Nunavut mine
Mary River Mine workers can fly out this week despite an ongoing blockade on the mine runway. Nunavut Justice Susan Cooper issued a temporary court order on Wednesday to allow the transport to be accommodated. Until an injunction between Baffinland and the group of protesters who call themselves Nuluujaat Land Guardians takes place at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. Mary River employees are said to be able to move freely around the project site, including the mine and port, as well as the runway, so they can go home. The logistics of how that will happen will be settled between the parties, Cooper said. The blockade is a protest against an expansion of the Mary River Mine and the associated environmental damage. The demonstrators are also calling on their regional Inuit organization to better represent them in negotiations with the mine or to have their communities represented. There are 12 people in tents and a nearby hunting lodge. Baffinland’s Udlorikak Hanson says operations have stalled and all flights, including food, supply and crew changes, have been suspended at the mine since February 4, when the blockade began. There are around 700 people on site. “You are welcome to stay on site if you only move so that we can be transported on the haul road and runway for free,” Hanson told CBC News. The protesters’ attorney, Lori Idlout, called for Wednesday’s hearing to be delayed, for over 400 pages of Baffinland’s legal documents, some of the previous evening, to be reviewed, and arguments prepared. She said her customers “acted sensibly”. The protesters say they fly in and out of flights once a week and have already let through vehicles carrying personnel and medical supplies. According to an affidavit from attorneys, protesters said they were harassed “by turning engines, honking horns and operating heavy mining machinery” during the night to interrupt their sleep. The affidavit lists five men as defendants: names Inuarak, Tom Naqitarvik, Jonathan Pitula, Christopher Akeeagok and Andy Kalluk. Two others are unnamed. Inuarak, a spokesman for the group, told CBC News that the protesters had no intention of keeping workers on the ground. Baffinland says it isn’t currently against one flight a week, but it wants the runway to be free for regular use. “We certainly don’t like that restriction,” said Baffinland’s attorney Brad Armstrong. The mine says it has met with Inuit organization leaders, the Hamlet of Pond Inlet, and the RCMP to find a way to end the blockade. “Baffinland cannot allow activities that raise safety concerns for local employees to continue,” the company said in a press release on Tuesday. “At this point, all attempts to negotiate the reopening of the Mary River runway have made no headway and Baffinland is considering all options to reopen the runway.” On Facebook, Inuit contractor Qikiqtani Industries Limited urged protesters to let their employees go. The company is a subsidiary of Qikitaaluk Corporation, which is owned by the Qikiqtani Inuit Organization. “You have the right to stand up for what you think is right and fair. You have no right to withhold food or necessities. You have no right to prevent someone from going home,” says the social Media contribution. The community urges the Inuit leaders to keep the protesters safe. Meanwhile, the hamlet of Pond Inlet is calling for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister, his MLA, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. You will be asked to answer the demonstrators before the blockade is forcibly lifted. “I ask for a meeting as soon as possible so that the protesters can step down as they know their concerns will be heard,” said Joshua Arreak, Mayor of Pond Inlet, in a letter on Wednesday. If an injunction is issued, “the RCMP will likely act quickly to end the blockade,” he said, adding that he does not want the protesters harmed. The blockade began last week during the environmental negotiations for the mine. QIA President PJ Akeeagok said the concerns the communities are protesting are legitimate – for both current and future mining. “It is very clear that the proposal is not adequately developed at this stage of the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) process,” he said. “The questions that are being asked at this point are alarming to me.” It’s also clear, he said, that communities near the mine don’t support the proposed expansion. The QIA Board of Directors has not yet publicly announced whether it supports the expansion or not. Akeeagok said the board would like to hear from the communities first. Enlargement environmental hearings will continue in March. The Nunavut Impact Review Board will then make a recommendation on the project to the federal government.