Skip to main content

Inuit Victory: Canadian Supreme Court Rules Against Seismic Testing in Nunavut

For the past three years, the Inuit community of Clyde River, Nunavut, has taken legal action to stop seismic testing in their Arctic waters. This morning, in a tremendous Inuit and environmental victory, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously in their favor—that Inuit were not properly consulted on the oil exploration project in Baffin Island and Davis Strait. The decision overturns the five-year seismic testing permit issued by the National Energy Board (NEB) in 2014.

The ruling, written by Justices Andromache Karakatsanis and Russell Brown, determined that the NEB's consultation process with the Clyde River Inuit was “significantly flawed,” paying little if any respect to the treaty rights of Inuit and their reliance on local marine mammals for subsistence. “Clyde River, a tiny hamlet in Baffin Island, Nunavut, surmounted nearly impossible odds,” Nader Hasan, Clyde River’s legal counsel, said at a press conference at the Supreme Court today. “It took countless, dedicated people working around the clock for three years to get to this point.”

Hasan underscored that it took the highest court to remind the Government of Canada, once again, that the duty to consult indigenous peoples must be taken seriously. “I hope for Mr. Trudeau and his Cabinet that this decision today functions as a bit of a wakeup call,” Hasan said. “…Government cannot simply pay lip service to solemn, constitutional obligations.”


Yet in a related decision today, June 26, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled against the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation appeal. The decision allows Enbridge to proceed with the reversal of crude oil flow and increase in capacity via the 40-year-old Line 9 pipeline. The pipeline presently runs from Sarnia to Montreal, cutting through the traditional and treaty territory of Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

The Chippewas of the Thames argue that they were not adequately consulted prior to the project's construction. Their grave environmental concerns stem from the pipeline’s age and original reason it was built: to transport light crude oil. The added density of oil sands bitumen, and increased temperature and pressure, could cause the pipeline to rupture, states a Union of Ontario Indians press release.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

“We are tremendously disappointed in this ruling. This is not the end,” stated Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee following the ruling. “We will continue to support Chippewas of the Thames in this toilsome fight for our rights. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Section 35 of the Constitution Act, the treaty relationship, and the 10 principles outlined by Justice Minister Raybould speak to a Nation-to-Nation relationship, not about third-parties that do not have any business in a Nation-to-Nation relationship.”

Clyde River joined the Chippewas at the Supreme Court of Canada for back-to-back hearings in November 2016, as both lawsuits concerned the NEB’s neglect of proper indigenous consultation.

Today's victory for Clyde River is bittersweet in light of the Chippewas losing their appeal. “We stand in solidarity with them today,” Hasan said.

About 1,000 Inuit reside in Clyde River, but support for their fight against seismic testing extended well beyond their tiny hamlet in Baffin Bay. “It’s totally unbelievable all the support we’ve had, not just from Inuit in Nunavut, but Greenpeace and international support,” said Jerry Natanine, former mayor and community leader from Clyde River. Greenpeace covered Clyde River’s lawyer fees and raised awareness of the lawsuit via media coverage. Natanine described the powerful advocacy of allies worldwide as “heartwarming. I cannot express my gratitude enough,” he said.

The process of mapping for fossil fuels involves blasting air canons underwater to the ocean floor to measure the echo signature, which indicates if oil and gas reserves exist beneath the seabed. Huge sonic blasts go off every 10 seconds for months on end. The noise pollution is devastating to the Arctic’s population of large, sound-sensitive mammals that use echolocation to navigate and communicate with other members thousands of miles away, as well as to feed, reproduce, and nurture their young. Whales, essentially, see through their ears. The consistent explosions, 100,000 times louder than a jet engine or dynamite, can deafen sea creatures. Similar, high-intensity noise has caused marine mammals to bleed from their ears and resulted in brain hemorrhaging. Seismic testing further interferes with the migration of narwhals, the tusked whales central to Inuit culture.

“The sea mammals we hunt are our everyday food,” Natanine said. “As it is right now, we cannot live off store-bought food,” he added, referring to the prohibitively high-priced and generally speaking unhealthy, processed food available in their nearest grocery stores.

Natanine previously told Save The Arctic: “We are fighting for our lives—to be Inuit, to live off the land.”