November 8, 2021 – Kuujjuaq, Nunavik – Nunavik Inuit achieved an important victory on September 21, 2021, when the Federal Court of Appeal declared that Canada failed to interpret and implement the wildlife management decision-making process under the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement (NILCA) in conjunction with the honour of the Crown. This judgment is particularly significant as it is the first decision of its kind to be issued under the NILCA. Ensuring that Canada respects the process is critical to protecting Nunavik Inuit treaty rights.
In 2012, the then- Minister of Environment asked the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board (NMRWB) – the co-management board created under the treaty – to establish the annual total allowable take (TAT) and the non-quota limitations (NQLs) for the polar bear subpopulations. Turning its attention first to the Southern Hudson Bay Polar Bear subpopulation, the NMRWB spent several years gathering extensive scientific data and Inuit Knowledge to inform its decision. The Minister ultimately varied the Board’s decision with respect to both the TAT and the NQLs.
The Minister’s variance of the decision raised serious concerns, prompting Makivik to file for judicial review. The decision from the trial court was not favourable for Nunavik Inuit, setting a negative precedent for wildlife co-management regimes across the country. Makivik appealed the decision, along with the Grand Council of the Crees, the NMRWB, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
The Federal Court of Appeal agreed with Makivik on the key points. Specifically, the Court agreed that the Deputy Minister and Minister both breached the honour of the Crown in failing to notify the NMRWB of their concerns regarding the Inuit Knowledge study and failing to provide adequate written reasons. The Court also agreed that the Minister breached the honour of the Crown when she varied the NQLs without having raised any concerns about them after the NMRWB submitted its initial decision. The effect of these breaches was to deny the NMRWB the opportunity to address the concerns in its final decision and to stifle discussions between the parties.
As stated by Justice Laskin in the judgment, these declarations by the Court “help underline the importance in the reconciliation endeavour of the Crown’s honouring its section 35 obligations, and of avoiding similar failures in the NILCA processes that are to follow.”
Despite the positive outcome of the decision, Makivik’s concerns about meaningful integration of Inuit Knowledge in the decision-making process remains. Co-management regimes established under the land claims agreements are fundamentally about reconciling these two perspectives and ensuring Indigenous Knowledge is informing the process at every stage. Inuit trust in this process is critical. Makivik will remain vigilant in its protection and promotion of Inuit Knowledge in all such decision-making processes.
“Wildlife management can become very complex when resources are shared with many jurisdictions. Land Claims Agreements are negotiated to address some of these complexities and all parties, including governments, need to respect them. I am pleased that the federal Court of Appeal recognized that in this case, the Minister failed to uphold the honour of the Crown. Moving forward, we need to work collaboratively and make sound and equitable decisions for all users.” Adamie Delisle-Alaku, Executive Vice-President for Environment, Wildlife, and Research, Makivik Corporation
Director of Communications
Makivik is the land claims organization mandated to manage the heritage funds of the Inuit of Nunavik provided for under the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement. Makivik’s role includes the administration and investment of these funds and the promotion of economic growth by providing assistance for the creation of Inuit-operated businesses in Nunavik. Makivik promotes the preservation of Inuit culture and language as well as the health, welfare, relief of poverty, and education of Inuit in the communities.