Northern Labrador's Biggest Developer: The Department of National Defence

Judy Rowell

IN SOME FORM OR ANOTHER, THE military has been a part of Labrador's history for a long time. The United States military set up radar sites as part of the Distant Early Warning (DEW line) system in Hopedale, Saglek, and Cape Makkovik in the early 1950s, and Goose Bay was established as a military air base for the U.S. Air Force in the early 1940s. However, particularly in the past eight years, the military has seriously intruded into northern Labrador, and indications are that it will become a dominant influence in the future development of the region.

 Military low-level flying has been a high-profile activity in Labrador since 1980. In 1981, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) formally signed a bilateral agreement with Canada to begin an intensive program of training their pilots in low-level flying based at Goose Bay. The Department of National Defence (DND) then assured the public, including the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA), that the Luftwaffe would be conducting a controlled, limited, low-impact program, using only four Phantom F-4 fighter jets. Yet, despite DND's assurances, the Luftwaffe increased its operations each successive year. Currently thc German force uses Tornadoes and Alpha jets in addition to the F-4s, generally employing 20 planes at any one time. The Luftwaffe has also constructed its own $45 million hangar at the base.

 In 1986, the Dutch Air Force also signed a bilateral agreement with the Canadian government; it, too, now has an intensive, low-level flying program employing approximately 12 F-16s. The Dutch have also spent several million dollars building a hangar on the base and renovating some existing buildings. In addition, the Royal Air Force, which has had a permanent presence in Goose Bay since the earliest days, has increased its low-level training exercises to include approximately nine Tornadoes.

 Recently, Canada based four CF- 18s in Goose Bay, of which two are used for low-level flight training. And, the Italian Air Force has expressed an interest in establishing a presence at Goose Bay; preliminary discussions with Canada have already begun.


These low-level flying activities are conducted as low as 50 feet above ground level at speeds in excess of 450 miles per hour. Although the low-level flights are restricted to corridors within two zones, one located in northern Labrador and one in southern Labrador, significant amounts of the surrounding land have been alienated for use as bombing ranges.

 There is every indication that military activities in Labrador will increase. DND has just completed construction of one long-range radar site in Saglek and is constructing four short-range sites  along the north coast of Labrador. These sites will be part of the North Warning System, which covers the arctic coastline from- Alaska across the Northwest Territories and down the Labrador coast. The Saglek installation has been constructed at the abandoned U.S. military DEW line site.

 For the past few years Canada has been lobbying NATO intensively to choose Goose Bay instead of Konya, Turkey, as the site for its new Tactical Fighter Weapons Training Centre (TFWTC). NATO's choice of Goose Bay will mean an even more significant increase in military activities along the north Labrador coast, including the establishment of an offshore bombing range. Whether or not Goose Bay becomes a NATO base, however, the low level flying approved by bilateral agreements between Canada and individual NATO countries will continue.

 The decision on the location of a NATO base will be made some time in 1990. Meanwhile, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has joined the federal government's lobbying efforts. In an effort to support and encourage a NATO decision to locate in Goose Bay, former premier Brian Peckford last year announced provincial funding for a new hospital and housing program to make Goose Bay more economically attractive. In the meantime, Goose Bay has been upgraded from a military station to a military base in anticipation of being chosen as the site for the NATO centre.

 Potential Impacts of DND Activities

 Labrador Inuit have been very concerned about the expansion of military activities in northern Labrador since the announcement in 1979 that the Luftwaffe would begin low-level flight exercises. At the time of that announcement LIA had two major concerns. The first concern was that the Luftwaffe represented the thin edge of the wedge-that the scope and level of their initial operations would likely escalate over the coming years, and that more countries would base similar operations in Goose Bay. The second concern was that there was a need for public review of this development as a responsible means of determining potential impacts and to ensure that DND, to some degree, remained accountable to the public. Accordingly, LIA asked Environment Canada to initiate the federal Environmental Assessment and Review Process (EARP).

 As low-level flying escalated over the years, Labrador Inuit became increasingly uneasy about its potential effects on wildlife-especially on the George River caribou herd, waterfowl, and furbearing animals-and on interference with Labrador Inuit hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering activities. Labrador Inuit have always depended on fish and wildlife from the land and waters of northern Labrador; their culture, economy, and livelihood depends on access to healthy animals, fish, and birds. The low-level flying and five new radar sites are all located in the heartland of Labrador Inuit hunting, trapping, and fishing territory. A threat to this environment is a threat to the survival of Labrador Inuit.

 Despite DND's continual statements to the contrary, it will be the Labrador Inuit who suffer the costs of the military development, with virtually no economic return or security accruing to them. History has proved more than once that the Happy Valley-Goose Bay business community will be the major benefactor of direct and spin-off benefits from these increased military activities. The Germans and the Dutch are spending in excess of $40 million on the construction of their respective hangars and general renovations for support facilities, and the province and the federal government are prepared to pour money into new hospitals and upgraded housing in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to attract further NATO activity. A dismal comparison can be made with the level of federal and provincial funding allocated under the terms of the Canada/Newfoundland Inuit of Labrador Agreement, which provides approximately $35 million over five years for five Inuit communities on the north coast. This amount is intended to cover core funding for all five municipal councils. water and sewer costs, housing, capital works projects, education, and the province's costs for administering the agreement.

Of equally pressing concern is the effect that DND's presence in northern Labrador is having on outstanding Labrador Inuit land claims. After being placed on the short list, LIA waited four years for the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to conclude a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MOW) regarding their respective responsibilities for the LIA claim so that tripartite negotiations could begin. Only in October 1988 did the federal and provincial governments finally agree to begin tripartite negotiations with LIA. Meanwhile DND advanced, and continues to advance, its own interests in northern Labrador in a manner which potentially prejudices the land claims negotiating process and, possibly, the outcome of the final settlement.

The escalation and expansion of military activities has a direct effect on current and future land use in northern Labrador; current flight corridors and zones claim a huge territory. The five radar sites along the north coast have alienated land as well; and, if a NATO base is approved, Labrador Inuit will also be faced with a bombing range off the north coast.

 In spite of this, DND will not address the cumulative or synergistic consequences of its activities in northern Labrador as responsibly as a private corporate proponent would be required to do. In its approach to public information policy, and in its Environmental Impact Statement, for instance, DND continues to isolate its lowlevel flying activities from the construction, operation, and maintenance of its radar bases. The public is forced to deal with two entirely separate groups within DND, each claiming ignorance of, and independence from, the other's operations. DND's approach to these issues is, however, consistent with the approach of the provincial government. The province very badly wants to see Goose Bay become the new TFWTC and is doing everything it can to ensure that Goose Bay is viewed favourably by NATO. Between DND and the provincial government the Labrador Inuit are repeatedly frozen out of the planning and review stages and are even denied access to the site selection process which identifies land for DND use in northern Labrador.

Only after years of public pressure did DND finally refer the low-level flying and the proposed NATO base to an Environmental Assessment and Review Panel (EARP) created to review the impacts of, and recommend the terms and conditions applying to, low-level flying, and to advise whether or not a NATO base should be allowed to locate in Goose Bay.

Significantly, the radar sites were excluded from the review panel's terms of reference. Instead, that issue has been subject only to an Initial Environmental Evaluation (IEE), which is an in-house screening process that, in this case, completely ignored Labrador Inuit concerns.

 Not only was the IKE prepared very quickly, without consulting LIA, but the documents made no mention of Labrador Inuit hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering activities in the area; nor did it include a discussion of land claims, because that was an issue beyond the scope of an IKE. Indeed, the evaluation even mistakenly identified the main cultural group living on the north coast of Labrador as the Innu (Indians), not the Labrador Inuit.

 DND sees any negative impacts of the radar program as restricted to the amount of land necessary to construct the specific sites, but the benefits, as described by DND, are spread much further afield.

 Since the entire North Warning System is a joint Canada-United States program, it is highly unlikely that the federal government will allow concerns about the potential impacts, the process, or outstanding aboriginal claims to delay completion of any part of the project.

 DND is also a proponent for another initiative-the transportation and destruction of PCBs in Labrador. Part of this project involved the transportation by barge of 800 tons of PCB-contaminated soil from Saglek to Goose Bay through the Labrador Sea in the fall-the worst time of year for storms. Despite the fact that DND's IKE identified the marine transportation of PCBs as one of the high-risk elements of the proposal, there was no assessment done of the impacts of a spill on the marine environment, on the food chain, and, ultimately, on the health of Labrador Inuit. In fact, LIA was not even given a copy of the IKE until mid-July 1989, even though it was released to the public in the Upper Lake Melville area in the spring of 1989.

Labrador Inuit are the only Inuit in the country who either have not settled their claim or who are not imminently close to settling. Accordingly, negotiations between DND and Inuit in other parts of the country are governed by the land-use and environmental protection regimes negotiated through these settlements. These arrangements ensure that Inuit will be meaningfully involved in all phases of land-use planning and environmental protection. Because the Labrador Inuit have no such agreement, DND is not under any legal, regulatory, or policy requirement to consult with or involve LIA directly in the planning or assessment of these activities.

LIA is currently negotiating a framework agreement as a prerequisite to substantive negotiations under federal land claims policy. LIA has proposed certain interim measures with respect to DND's short-range radar sites and low-level flying activities.

 Under the current federal land claims policy, if a major development is proposed in an area that is under active negotiation, here is provision for appropriate interim measures to be negotiated.

 LIA's efforts to negotiate its proposals as interim measures at the framework stage of negotiations were successful largely due to process-related issues. However, the concerns were removed from the table into an "outside" bilateral forum involving DND and LIA. Accordingly, LIA is now dealing directly with DND, the contractor, and Newfoundland in an effort to resolve concerns about the short-range radar sites. LIA and DND also attempted to negotiate terms and conditions to apply to the transport of PCBs from Saglek, and, although DND did not meet all LIA's conditions, it did agree to make a number of adjustments according to LIA's proposal.

 As of December 1989, DND had also agreed to consult with LIA with a view to reaching agreement on terms and conditions to apply to low-level flying in northern Labrador. These bilateral discussions have already begun.

 DND as a Proponent

 In the early 1980s, when conducting exploratory drilling off Labrador, PetroCanada and Canterra had to comply with specific criteria established by government for proponents operating in this area. These criteria required that the proponent initiate full-scale consultation programs with all north-coast communities and, specifically, with LIA as the regional organization representing Labrador Inuit on the north coast. As well, it required the proponent to: initiate and fund relevant and appropriate studies, including baseline studies; implement an acceptable compensation policy addressing damage to wildlife, the environment, and interference with hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering activities; establish preferential hiring and training policies for native people; and give preference to local native businesses. In addition to this, oil and gas operations had to make significant contributions to a revolving fund established to finance studies on the potential impacts of oil- and gas-related activities on offshore environments. As mentioned previously, the same standards do not appear to apply to government. DND did not acknowledge its role as a proponent until very late in the game- after five years of intense pressure from the public and, in particular, from the Labrador Inuit and Innu.

 DND's track record on consultation has been terrible, typically conducted by a military team running a heavy-handed and sporadic public relations campaign which only served to prove that DND was not interested in listening to community concerns; it was interested only in avoiding them or dismissing them.

 A graphic illustration of this is provided by events surrounding the visit of a DND public relations team to Nain to discuss plans for the Saglek radar site. DND wanted to meet only with the Nain Town Council because it considered the radar base a municipal zoning issue-even though Saglek is about 120 miles north of Nain. Only after the Nain Town Council made it very clear that the Saglek radar base was in the purview of LIA as the organization representing Labrador Inuit rights and interests in the land did DND officials agree to meet with LIA.

 In the early years of the low-level flight training DND exacerbated tensions by its reaction to reports of low-level flights sighted over coastal areas outside the zone. Each time a sighting was reported by local people on the coast, DND asked for the jet's call number on the phone; without the call numbers DND would not acknowledge the incident as a legitimate sighting. In this way, DND effectively avoided accountability to the public for its activities.

Moreover, because DND refused to acknowledge its role as a proponent of a significant development, five years of data on the potential impacts of low-level flying were lost. Right from the start, Labrador Inuit were concerned about the potential effects of low-level flying on caribou behaviour, and, in particular, on the George River caribou herd. In 1979 DND affirmed that it would work with LIA to establish a monitoring program; DND did not honour this promise.

 In 1984, DND made a considerable contribution to a two-year study, also funded through the Coastal Labrador Subsidiary Agreement, to look at the effect of military low-level flying on caribou behaviour. The study was directed by a steering committee co-chaired by the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Branch, with representatives from the federal government and LIA.

 However, no reliable data could be collected during the first field season because of poor co-ordination between the study team and DND's low-level flying exercises. The steering committee insisted on a third year of funding to provide the study with its intended two field seasons of data. LIA maintained it was DND's responsibility to provide the extra money. A year of intergovernmental debate concluded that a third year of funding would be provided after very complicated arrangements were made to separate DND's funding commitment from the actual release of the money.

 Once agreement was reached with DND for the financing of a third field season, the arrangements called for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) to provide initial funding. However, according to a letter from DND to the Newfoundland and Labrador Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat (IGA),"if this does not materialize and you fin that the $250 000 is still required for DND the transfer of funds would b facilitated if the money can be journalized to another federal department or agreement for disbursement of the study funds." It is difficult to understand the need for such bureaucratic gymnastics when a corporate proponent would have simply and direct!' released the money.

 While DND takes every opportunity, to tell people about the economic benefit it will bring to the area, its track record for hiring Labrador Inuit during its three year in Saglek is abysmal. DND argues that i is committed to hiring local manpower, but its definition of "local" includes residents of Goose Bay, anyone from Labrador as whole, and, in some cases, workers from St. John's.

 "Local" certainly doesn't appear tc mean Nain, the closest community tc Saglek. During the three years of construe lion at Saglek, with a crew of approximate ly 120 people, only one person from Nain had been hired for part of one construction season. That person was not an Inuk. An enormous amount of public pressure has resulted in an Inuk from Nain being employed at Saglek since August 1988 However, the construction phase was the opportunity of maximum economic advantage to the Labrador Inuit; the subsequent operation and maintenance phase requires a high degree of skill and specialized training that Labrador Inuit on the north coast do not yet possess. Despite that, the company responsible for the operation phase of Saglek has been able to recruit a few Inuit to work on site.

 DND claims that it cannot give preference to hiring Inuit or Innu because it must deal with all Labradorians equally. This position attempts to circumvent the criteria established by the federal government for corporate proponents in industry, and it denies the rights and interests of the native people to the land upon which DND is intruding.

Only after the environmental assessment process was activated did DND begin to respond more like a corporate proponent meeting the criteria and the guidelines developed by the Federal Environmental Assessment and Review Office (FEARO); that DND even acknowledged a degree of public accountability for its activities was a major breakthrough. Ironically, by responding to the FEARO guidelines and criteria, DND now perceives itself to be an enlightened and responsible proponent-an image justified, perhaps, only in the context of the department's past performance in Labrador.

Certainly among residents of the northern Labrador coast, DND's role as a proponent is viewed in a different light. Labrador Inuit have had considerable involvement with other corporate proponents, especially in the oil and gas industry, and have seen how the co-operative approach of these proponents outdistances any efforts by DND. The oil and gas industry probably has the best track record of any industry in terms of both assessing the impact of its activities and involving native people wherever possible. This positive track record has evolved out of the direct pressure applied by aboriginal groups, and from more stringent government guidelines requiring the industry to contribute more in terms of research, economic benefits, and training for native peoples. The cost borne by corporate proponents was justified on the grounds that the proponent would be the primary beneficiary of any development and must, therefore, be responsible for maximizing benefits and minimizing negative impacts on behalf of everyone concerned.

DND is a proponent that has so far been unwilling to consider seriously the concerns of the aboriginal people in Labrador. Because the politics surrounding DND's activities in Labrador are international in scope, the military will not be compelled to respond to local conditions as corporate proponents have and are not about to be reactive to local conditions.

 True, the EARP review will help make DND appear a responsible proponent. It will likely provide a public forum for, and fair review of, the facts and issues surrounding military development in northern Labrador, but it is unlikely that it will change DND's timetable or agenda.

Over the years LIA has chosen to deal with DND within a framework of discussion and, whenever possible, negotiation. LIA has made submissions to the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence, and has met with the Minister of National Defence and innumerable DND officials. The association has written reports and letters and made proposals-all in an effort to try and deal with Labrador Inuit concerns about DND's activities. Until very recently, this approach has not advanced recognition of LIA.

Conversely, the Innu, who are also directly affected by the low-level flying activities, have chosen civil disobedience as their tactic to force attention and action on their outstanding land claims. The Innu have camped at the end of one of the runways in Goose Bay, disrupting air traffic; they have also camped out on the bombing range, disrupting low-level training activities. Their persistence has received international attention.

 With DND's sudden willingness to enter into bilateral negotiations with LIA in an attempt to address LIA's concerns with respect to low-level flying, we may be witnessing a significant change in DND's recognition of its responsibilities as a proponent. LIA believes that two events have been largely responsible for a change in DND's willingness to acknowledge LIA's concerns. One is the application for an injunction against low-level flying that the Innu filed in the Federal Court of Canada in November 1989, and the other is the formal start-up of tripartite negotiations to settle outstanding claims of the Labrador Inuit. However, this is all very late in the day.

In a desperate attempt to address the continual erosion of Labrador Inuit culture and rights, LIA has agreed to enter bilateral discussions with DND about low-level flying. Bilateral discussions are a parallel process outside the land claims negotiations which can very quickly consume valuable time, resources, and manpower. LIA is willing to explore this avenue as a more effective way of putting in place measures now that will protect the land claims negotiating process and the aboriginal rights and interests of the Labrador Inuit to lands, waters, and resources in northern Labrador.

It is difficult to know what it will take to make the federal and provincial governments acknowledge the potential impact of the ever-increasing intrusion of DND activities in northern Labrador. Attempts at reasonable and responsible discussion with the appropriate government departments have achieved nothing in the way of substantive protection for Labrador Inuit rights and interests while Labrador Inuit continue to witness the erosion of their culture and lifestyle, and fear the threat of prejudice to a just settlement of their aboriginal claims. The continual delays in starting formal tripartite negotiations with LIA have allowed DND to proceed with its agenda in absolute isolation from the central issue of Inuit land claims in northern Labrador.

 Judy Rowell is Environmental Advisor to the Labrador Inuit Association.

"In This Issue..."