Inuit legal challenge to oil and gas exploration in the Eastern Arctic an important test of human rights protection in Canada
Inuit hunters and other community members from the Hamlet of Clyde River in Nunavut have challenged a decision by the National Energy Board of Canada (NEB) to allow a group of multinational corporations to carry out seismic exploration off Baffin Island.
“Fundamental human rights protections are at stake in this case,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “Canadian and international law both require rigorous precautions to ensure that resource development decisions don’t lead to further marginalization and dispossession of Indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, the regulatory bodies that Canada relies on to uphold the public interest, all too often look at consultation with Indigenous peoples as a mere formality and fail to meet the underlying goal of protecting Indigenous peoples’ human rights.”
The Hamlet of Clyde River and the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organization allege that the NEB failed to adequately consider the harmful effects of seismic testing on marine mammals and on Inuit food, economy and culture, and that the decision violated the constitutional rights of the Inuit.
Given the important issues raised by this case, Amnesty International sought leave to intervene at the Federal Court of Appeal. Amnesty intended to argue that the high standard of protection required for Indigenous peoples’ rights -- including rights to culture, tradition and livelihoods – must be factored into any determination of whether the potential impacts of resource exploration are serious or justifiable. Amnesty International’s application was denied by the Court in December. No explanation was given for the Court’s decision.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has been clear that decision-makers should aim to comply with Canada’s international human rights obligations when interpreting Canadian law,” said Alex Neve. “We remain hopeful that the Federal Court of Appeal will examine this critical case in light of the very important obligations set out in international instruments like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Amnesty International believes that projects of this nature should only proceed with the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international human rights standards.
Neve said, “The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was developed by the international community precisely because governments, courts and regulatory bodies need guidance on addressing and overcoming the history of discrimination and marginalization that has disrupted and threatened Indigenous peoples’ unique ways of life. With oil and gas development at the heart of the federal growth strategy, the Clyde River case provides an important opportunity to ensure that decisions about which projects go ahead, and which are rejected, comply the global human rights protections that Canada has endorsed.”
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