Monday, September 21, 2009

CBC: Finding Franklin group challenges search permit refusal

According to a story today on the CBC's website, Rob Rondeau and his ProCom Diving Services are challenging the denial of an archaeological permit by the Government of Nunavut:

The Nunavut government has come under fire for denying an archeological permit to a privately-funded group that wants to search for Sir John Franklin's missing ships in the High Arctic. Members of the Finding Franklin Expedition said the reasons they were denied a Class 1 archeological permit by the territorial government do not make sense. "It's extremely important, I think, on a global scale to Canada, to Great Britain, that the wrecks be found," Rob Field, one of the lead archeologists in the expedition group, told CBC News.

You can read the rest of the story here at the CBC's site. The gist is that Rondeau's group feel that they did consult with local Inuit, having spoken with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, who put them in touch with Inuit in Taloyoak where they had hoped to hire a couple of local guides. They also say that they have plenty of underwater experience, even if most of it has not been in the Arctic, and feel that the territorial Justice minister was unnecessarily harsh in sending a letter threatening their arrest.Rob Field, an archaeologist working with Rondeau's group, is quoted as saying that he's not sure why it is so difficult to obtain permission to simply do a "no touch" search for the wrecks of Erebus and Terror. He says that he hopes to speak with Julie Ross, the Nunavut government archaeologist who was involved in the review of ProCom's permit application


  1. I've been scouring the web to try to find out what is the legal basis for archaeology in Nunavut and the most relevant thing I've found so far is the Northwest Territories Archaeological Sites Regulations

    I'd be surprised if there's any Nunavut specific legislation which overrides it although it's possible. One question it answers is the difference between Class 1 and Class 2 permits - Class 1 is for looking without touching and Class 2 is for physically digging things up. One of the requirements for a Class 2 permit (but not Class 1) is that "the applicant has demonstrated the expertise in archaeology necessary to conduct the project".

    There is also a provision to ensure the "the applicant has complied with all conditions precedent to obtaining such a permit set out in any applicable land claims agreement", which I would assume to mean Article 33 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement

    This gives the Inuit Heritage Trust the right to object to the issue of a permit on the basis of "inadequate efforts to secure Inuit participation and benefits". If the IHT have objected I can find no mention of it on the web.

    The reasons given in the CBC report for the refusal of the permit don't seem to fit with the regulations mentioned so either my interpretation is wrong, or there is some additional legislation I haven't found yet, or there has been some other mistake. No doubt Mr Rondeau's lawyers have looked into it in great detail but his non-disclosure agreement with the Discovery Channel ensures we have just one more layer of mystery to guess about.

  2. Thanks so much for this informative and thorough posting. It may well be that the issues with the permit application (such as IHT objections) are handled internally, and may not be readily available either to journalists or ourselves. Someone might need to make the Canadian equivalent of an FOI request to obtain them.

    My sense is that the Nunavut territorial government, now that it doesn't have to submit to decisions made in Yellowknife, has taken a fresh approach to interpreting and administering statutes and policies. They want to assert more control, and give more substance to requirements such as the one for IHT consultation. I think that it's quite likely that Rondeau and his team got a bit ahead of themselves, making plans with the assumption they'd get the permit quickly, and that the territorial government's response is partly to force them to take these requirements more seriously. Certainly if it's true, as the earlier CBC report seemed to indicate, that they were already doing some kind of search or preliminary work even though a permit had not been approved, that would, understandably, anger Nunavut officials.

    That said, the process should certainly be more transparent, and its requirements more explicitly spelled out. It should also be possible to track the process online, as you've tried to do!

  3. Always happens - I just learned that there actally is Nunavut specific legislation: the Nunavut Archaeological and Palaeontological Sites Regulations:
    In contrast to the NWT regulations, the requirements for a Class 1 permit do include that "the applicant has demonstrated the expertise in archaeology or palaeontology necessary to conduct the project and complete the report required". Mr Rondeau does seem to be admirably qualified but, as you suggest, it looks like he has has attempted to move more quickly than the environment will allow.