Locked Out: Nunavut TV station looking in from the outside during NIRB hearings

A sudden change of heart from Nunavut’s top mining review board has a world famous Inuk filmmaker claiming censorship.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) announced it would no longer allow the live broadcast of hearings into the expansion of the Mary River mine near Pond Inlet Nunavut.

During the last set of public meetings in February, some residents blocked the mine’s access to their runway and access road, a move that the Baffinland Iron Ore company claims cost them $14 million.

This last round of hearings began this week in Iqaluit, and are highly anticipated, especially by the High Arctic communities nearest to the mine. The previous round of hearings was shown live on Uvagut TV.

Uvagut began broadcasting territory wide in January; they show mostly Inuktitut programming and is available on local cable throughout Nunavut and much of Canada.

But Uvagut is not allowed to show this round, according to the NIRB.

Zacharias Kunuk is on the board of directors of the Nunavut Independent Television Network (NITV), the entity that runs Uvagut TV.

He’s also an award winning filmmaker with an international reputation.

“We know we are being censored,” wrote Kunuk in a press release following the decision.  “We want to find out who is censoring us. It’s not the Inuit way to be confrontational.”

When asked to explain the seeming reversal of policy, NIRB directed APTN News to an April 6 statement on its website. The lengthy statement cites a number of reasons for the change of heart.

The first reason; Nunavut residents can tune in a number of ways, and showing the broadcast may not show the entire picture.

In a letter explaining their decision, NIRB Chair Marjorie Kaluraq wrote, “The rebroadcast of only one component of the Board’s process out of context creates an incomplete picture of the assessment, and may actually further misconceptions about the Board’s assessment by emphasizing only one aspect of the assessment.”

One of the points Uvagut made in their submission to the NIRB was that people in Igloolik were not able to watch the previous proceedings. Nunavut’s cable TV is run through Co-op stores.

The Igloolik Co-op burned to the ground in late January, so Igloolik residents didn’t have the option of watching via cable TV.

Kalaruq defended the decision by writing, “With many other ways of accessing information about the Board’s proceedings, as described above, the need to provide access to the proceedings in Igloolik does not justify diverging from the Board’s normal prohibition on rebroadcasting before the Board has completed decision-making for the file.”

The actual picture isn’t as clear as the NIRB chair is claiming.

The hearings can be viewed online, if you write the NIRB and request a link – which isn’t something available on the NIRB website.

Then, the challenge of Nunavut’s internet comes into play.

Every Nunavut community is a fly-in community, and there are no high speed cables to connect Nunavut to the rest of Canada’s communications grid. That results is exclusively satellite internet.

Technically, you can watch the NIRB hearings from Igloolik, but only if the internet works out really well that day and you have internet access.

The idea that this is a “normal prohibition” has also been called into question by Uvagut TV.

Igloolik’s Isuma TV is one of the groups that helped form Uvagut. The executive director points out that Isuma had broadcast hearings as far back as 2012.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out, what happened?” said Lucy Tulugarjuk. “We didn’t have any problems broadcasting when the technical hearings were happening. We’ve been doing this since 2012.”

The idea that the NIRB is following their previous practices – which is disputed by Uvagut TV –  is part of their explanation for the current restrictions.

NIRB hearings are public. In non-pandemic times, anyone could walk in and watch.

Now, NIRB claims that the privacy of people testifying at a public meeting is enough to shut down broadcast.

Kalaruq wrote to Uvagut, “It would be unfair to participants if the Board were to now lift their normal limits on rebroadcast/retransmission only after participants have participated in the reconvened Public Hearing, without having been given advance notice of this change to the Boards normal practices, and not having been given the opportunity to object, refuse to participate in the proceedings or seek to reinstate the Board’s reasonable limits.”

The multi-million dollar hovering over these most recent hearings is the expansion of the Mary River Iron Ore Mine.

The mine is seeking to double production and add a railway. From these hearings, the NIRB will make a recommendation to the federal cabinet, on whether the mine should be allowed to expand.

The feds hold the final decision, they can choose to listen to the NIRB, or forge their own way.

The previous hearings – shown publicly on Uvagut TV – happened at the same time as protestors took over the mine’s access road and runway. Uvagut’s executive director has a hunch the two are connected.

The April 6 letter outlining the media rules was cc’d to the Baffinland Iron Ore Mine’s Vice President of Sustainable Development Megan Lord-Hoyle.

When the Nuluujaat Land Guardians blocked the site Baffinland site, the hearings were being broadcast. Tulugarjuk thinks that the viral Facebook video the Land Guardians published has influenced the debate, and this decision.

“I think that might be the reason,” explained Tulugarjuk. “There’s too much information that’s hidden, that is not talked about. It made it to the public because of the Land Guardians, they recorded and made it public on Facebook, and it caught attention. I think that might be one of the reasons.”

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