Federal Court strikes allocation decision for licences in Nunavut-adjacent waters

Federal Court strikes allocation decision for licences in Nunavut-adjacent waters

 In Media Releases

Iqaluit, Nunavut, May 6, 2024 – Nunavut Tunngavik Inc (“NTI”) and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (“QIA”) welcomed a significant victory with the release of a decision from the Federal Court on April 26, 2024. In 2021, the Minister of Fisheries decided to re-issue commercial fishing licences in Nunavut’s offshore waters to non-Inuit fishing interests in southern Canada. The Court struck down this decision, finding the Minister failed to meet the “heightened responsibility” that the Nunavut Agreement requires:

“the [Minister’s] Decision was not justified in relation to the legal constraint of the Nunavut Agreement nor was it justifiable, transparent, or intelligible in its analysis and determination of special considerations within the meaning of Article 15.3.7 and the honour of the Crown.”

Under the Nunavut Agreement, when the Minister makes decisions about licences in waters next to Nunavut, the Minister must give “special consideration” to the principle of adjacency (that local communities should benefit from local resources) and the fact that the economy and livelihood of Nunavut communities depends on these fisheries.

When the Nunavut Agreement was signed in 1993, the vast majority of licences in Nunavut waters were held by southern Canadian interests. The licences are extremely valuable and have rarely changed owners since. Because this licensing scheme was grandfathered in, Nunavut’s access to its coastal waters lags far behind other jurisdictions in Canada. For decades, these licences have primarily benefited southern-based economies and communities, despite the terms of Nunavut Agreement.

Since then, NTI and QIA have worked to secure equitable access to offshore fisheries. In 2021, when the Minister again issued Nunavut licences to southern Canadian companies without considering the rights of Nunavut communities, NTI and QIA filed a judicial review in Federal Court to challenge the decision.

“This is a major victory for all Inuit and all modern treaty signatories” said QIA President Olayuk Akesuk. “The Federal Court’s decision is a clear signal to everyone, and especially to government, that the Crown must respect our treaties and work to diligently implement their terms. There is enormous potential in our offshore fisheries to build a sustainable and viable economy that Nunavut communities can thrive on, but developing and expanding commercial fisheries into a functioning pillar of the Nunavut economy requires actively addressing historic exclusion of Inuit from nearby commercial fisheries.”

“Nunavut Inuit have once again had to resort to legal action to get Canada to recognize the rights that are clearly defined in the Nunavut Agreement,” said NTI President Aluki Kotierk. “Nunavut communities adjacent to the waters where marine resources are being harvested must be given special consideration when fishing licenses are being allocated, that has been the case since the Nunavut Agreement was signed in 1993. The federal government must consider our treaty with Canada and start utilizing it from the outset of the decision-making process. Nunavut Inuit need to focus our attention on improving lives in our community and stop spending time and resources reaffirming rights that are already enshrined in Canadian law.”

NTI and QIA look forward to engaging with the Minister towards achieving the intended purposes of the Nunavut Agreement. With the Federal Court’s clear guidance, we are very hopeful that the Minister’s re-determination of her decision will allow for Nunavut to access our adjacent fisheries in a manner that is fair and comparable to the share enjoyed by southern jurisdictions.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Karen Flaherty
Director, Strategic Communications, QIA
(P) 867.975.8398 or toll-free 1.800.667.2742

Kevin Kablutsiak
Director, Communications, NTI

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