Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for February 19, 2014

Big-name B.C. lawyer retained for Peel case

The territorial government insists it fulfilled all obligations under the Yukon’s aboriginal land claim settlements when it adopted its land use plan for the Peel River watershed.

By Chuck Tobin on February 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm

The territorial government insists it fulfilled all obligations under the Yukon’s aboriginal land claim settlements when it adopted its land use plan for the Peel River watershed.

The government Tuesday afternoon filed its statement of defence to the lawsuit launched Jan. 27 by two Yukon First Nations and two environmental organizations.

The Tr’ondek Hwech’in of Dawson City, Mayo’s First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun, the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society are asking the Yukon Supreme Court to throw out the government’s plan.

Instead, they want the court to declare the land use plan recommended by the Peel planning commission is binding.

In its 11-page statement of defence, the government argues it followed all the requirements set out in the land claim agreements in finalizing its land use plan for the Peel watershed.

It also highlights the section in the final agreements which states it is free in a regional planning exercise to accept, reject or modify any recommendations from a planning commission for land use activity on non-settlement land. (Approximately 97 per cent of the planning area is territorial Crown land.)

The statement of defence says the 68,000 square kilometres comprising the Peel River watershed have been subject to mineral exploration and oil and gas activity for the past 60 years.

There are existing “Cat” trails and access routes running through the region, most notably the 612-kilometre trail along the Wind River, the statement of defence notes.

The government also rejects the suggestion in the lawsuit that its land use plan for the Peel would turn the region into the Wild West for industrial development opportunities.

The land use plan, the government insists, is conservative in nature and caps the amount of development that can occur at one time in specific areas.

Any development proposals that do come forward will be guided by new management tools created to protect important values identified by the planning commission, says the statement of defence.

The government also points out that its plan creates an additional 19,800 square kilometres of protected areas. The amount raises the portion of protected areas in the Yukon to 16.8 per cent of the territory, the highest of any jurisdiction in Canada.

Critics of the government’s new plan, however, are quick to point out new roads and bridges are allowed throughout the Peel planning region, even in protected areas to access existing mineral claims that will be grandfathered under the plan.

The Yukon government announced Tuesday it will retain senior B.C. lawyer John J.L. Hunter to handle its defence.

Hunter has been involved in some prominent aboriginal rights cases, including the 2004 groundbreaking case involving the Haida Nation and the province of B.C. which went all the way to Supreme Court of Canada, says the government’s press release.

On the other hand, the two First Nations and the two environmental organizations have retained renowned aboriginal rights lawyer Thomas Berger.

A former justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Berger conducted the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry in the 1970s. He recommended that until aboriginal land claims were settled, there should be no pipeline development.

The government and the two First Nations and conservation groups are scheduled to meet March 11 with a Yukon Supreme Court judge to begin planning how the case and exchange of information are to be managed leading up to the trial.

The Peel planning process has been divisive and controversial since the six-member planning commission produced the original three planning options five years ago.

The First Nations were calling for wilderness protection over 100 per cent of the area, but later indicated they could live with the 80 per cent protection recommended by the Peel planning commission, as a show of good faith.

The mining industry argued for more balance and continued access to what it described as a region with rich potential to yield mineral resources.

A swelling of public support for protection of the Peel has resulted in numerous rallies and demonstrations, bumper stickers and most recently a fund-raising concert to help pay the legal fees to fight the government.

The First Nations insist the government was obligated to conduct public consultations based on the land use plan recommended by the planning commission.

When it threw out the recommended plan and adopted its own, it was in breach of the aboriginal land claim settlements, they argue.

The government points out in its statement of claim that it wrote the commission after it received the recommended plan and indicated the commission needed to revisit the plan to provide more balance between wilderness protection and development opportunities.

The planning commission, however, decided at the end of the day, the land use plan it originally recommended was the best plan it could come up with, and did not substantially alter it at the government’s behest.

There’s been no request for a court order freezing the Peel region from further activity until the case has been settled.

The YCS has suggested anyone who begins working in the area before the court case is resolved does so at its own risk, and would be operating on the opposite side of public opinion.

CommentsAdd a comment

Stan

Feb 19, 2014 at 4:23 pm

The government’s position does not make sense to me.
I think the RCMP should become involved to ensure everything done is legal.
To accept campaign contributions from mining companies then ignore voters seems very shady. I know I am not the only person who has this concern!

Sebastian Jones

Feb 19, 2014 at 5:58 pm

YG’s legal counsel, John Hunter represented MacMillan Bloedel in the Haida case. The TH/NND/YCS/CPAWS counsel, Thomas Berger represented the Haida in the same case. This case established the duty to consult a First Nation if an activity might affect its rights. This is at the centre of the RRDC vs YG case. YG lost that one.
One way to explain YG hiring this gentleman is that Hunter wants a rematch.
Another is to paraphrase a wise man who defined insanity as trying something, failing, and then repeating it exactly hoping for different result. Time and again.

Earl Camenbert

Feb 19, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Hurry hurry, Step right up, and don’t forget to pay the lady!
Crazy how this has become the farce it is, and a very expensive one no doubt. Gonna make Dennis’ asset backed commercial investments look like a great idea.

Lets get ready to RUUUUMBLE!
*ding ding*

Dustin G

Feb 19, 2014 at 8:25 pm

I read the flier that was sent out and I am 100% happy with the way the plan is laid out. No party remains 100% happy and gets all that they want. This is as it should be.
Hopefully you guys have a decent candidate in my riding next time Yukon Party cause you’ve earned my vote.

Josey Wales

Feb 19, 2014 at 10:03 pm

@Stan….“I think the RCMP should become involved to ensure everything done is legal”.

Really Stan? News much? Ever hear about a town called High River in Alberta?
anywhoooooo, about the Peel…
so So Soooo tired of hearing of it.

yukonlinda

Feb 20, 2014 at 10:32 am

Accepting campaign contributions from a corporation, whether they mine or make widgets, is legal in Yukon as long as the donations are reported in accordance with the Elections Act. It is also legal to accept campaign contributions from groups such as environmental NGO’s and labour groups or unions. There’s nothing illegal about it.

Pro-Science Greenie

Feb 20, 2014 at 2:33 pm

The best scenario for the Peel would be to go back to square one and create a large federal park. Then use the Dawson Regional Planning Commission’s less controversial and more rational method to redo a LUP for the rest of the Peel River Watershed.

If they are

Feb 20, 2014 at 6:18 pm

If yg is so convinced the legal advise they got from their own department of justice is correct why the need to hire someone else versus using lawyers they already retain. I smell fear.

Groucho d'North

Feb 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Yukonlinda,
How do you feel about the unions donating to the NDP? Without their memberships approval?
Political support funding cuts both ways.

yukonlinda

Feb 22, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Groucho,
I’m not a member of a union, so I think that’s a question best left to union members. If members disagree then they should seek change. I would have a problem with it if I was a union member, as I won’t support the NDP, but I work really hard at being self employed so I won’t have to worry about it! :)

Frank

Feb 23, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I read both court briefs and it is very clear the Yukon government rewrote the plan too late in the process. They clearly violated the process.

With the many court precedents they cannot win this case. It will be very expensive and will set back their relationship with FN people.
Sad really, pandering at an level which borders on stupidity.

Protect the Peel

Feb 25, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Yup self employed and like every other free enterprise business in the Yukon with a huge helping of government grants, no doubt!!

Wolfe

Feb 25, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Only the lawyers will gain on this fiasco, YG had better do the right thing and soon! 
We elect the members to represent us and to ensure accountability of our funds.  Yes they are our funds, not the YG’s funds to use as they wish.
Put it to a vote Darrell.  Failure to act with fiscal responsibility will result in a short stint as the leader of the YG.

yukonlinda

Feb 25, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Sorry, Protect the Peel, I’ve never had any government grants or contracts for that matter. Some of us can survive on our own.

CJ

Feb 26, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Far be it from me to question a lawyer, but why so much focus on the content of the plan, when the issue is the process.

northerntut

Feb 28, 2014 at 4:01 pm

The real issue here is a fundamental breach of the spirit and intent of a constitutional agreement between YFNs, YG and Canada. This is a potential precedent which cannot be left unchallenged. An old saying that one rotten apple can spoil the barrel can truly apply here. Should YG prevail, I believe the fallout will be the unraveling of 40 years of good faith negotiations, which may throw the Yukon back to the 1960’s.

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