Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

PEEL SUPPORT – Chief Bruce Charlie of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation addresses the audience Sunday at the Peel Goes to Ottawa: Yukon Send-Off. The Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments in the Peel court case Wednesday morning.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

IMPASSIONED SEND-OFF – Steve Slade performs at the gathering Sunday in support of protection for the Peel River watershed.

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Photo by Aimee O'Connor

OPTIMISM – Chief Roberta Joseph of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in told those gathered at the Peel send-off she was optimistic about the future of the Peel watershed.

Many travel to Ottawa for Supreme Court of Canada hearing

Those who’ve led the legal battle over the Peel River watershed expressed optimism Sunday as they prepared to depart for the Supreme Court of Canada hearing in Ottawa.

By Chuck Tobin on March 21, 2017

Those who’ve led the legal battle over the Peel River watershed expressed optimism Sunday as they prepared to depart for the Supreme Court of Canada hearing in Ottawa.

“After years of defending the integrity of our final agreements and the Peel watershed planning process, we are only three days away from the final day in court,” Chief Roberta Joseph of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in told those attending a Peel send off. “The legal journey we have been in for the past three years is nearly over.”

Christina Macdonald of the Yukon Conservation Society told the audience gathered at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre there were some 30 making the trip to be there for the hearing that begins Wednesday morning at 6:30 a.m. Yukon time.

The hearing is expected to take up to three hours.

All the parties – even the Yukon government – have accepted the findings of the two lower courts that the Yukon government failed to participate honourably in the Peel land use planning process, according to their written submissions to the high court.

What they don’t agree on is the remedy.

In the initial court case, Justice Ron Veale of the Yukon Supreme Court ruled that because of the Yukon government’s failure in its participation, it would have to largely accept the final land use plan recommended by the planning commission. The plan included 80 per cent wilderness protection across the 68,000 square kilometres with virtually no road or railway access, provisions the Yukon government was completely opposed to.

The Court of Appeal, on the other hand, ruled it would do no good to force the Yukon government to accept the final recommendation, as it would not promote the spirit of reconciliation the land claim agreements were designed to foster.

Instead, the appeal court ruled the matter should be sent back to the planning table to the point where the planning exercise went off the rails because of the Yukon government’s failure to provide a meaningful response to the plan recommended by the commission.

The Yukon government is supporting the Court of Appeal decision to return to the point in the planning process where it went off the rails.

It was because of their opposition to the appeal court’s decision that the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, the Yukon Conservation Society and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society asked the Supreme Court of Canada to hear an appeal.

The appellants argue the Yukon government’s failure to participate honourably in the first go around should not be rewarded with a second chance. Allowing a “redo” could undermine future obligations set out in Yukon land claim agreements and other modern treaties right across Canada, they argue.

The Council of Yukon First Nations, the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the federal government were granted intervener status and will be given five minutes each to present their arguments, in addition to their written submissions to the court.

Statistics provided by the Supreme Court of Canada show that over the last five years, the court has taken an average of four to six months to issue its decision.

Liberal Premier Sandy Silver promised during the election campaign last fall that a Liberal government would honour the land use plan recommended by the planning commission that calls for 80 per cent wilderness protection with little surface access.

Also addressing Sunday’s audience were Chief Bruce Charlie of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, Chief Simon Mervyn of the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun and Joanna Jack of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The gathering heard how the Liberal government will be held to its promise.

In attendance Sunday were many who have stood as supporters of the Peel at rally after rally.

The afternoon send off also featured several local entertainers.

In Ottawa today, members of the Yukon delegation were scheduled to participate in a water ceremony performed by the grandmothers of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Band.

Following the hearing tomorrow morning, there will be a public reception in the afternoon followed by a private reception later in the evening to which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been invited.

On Thursday, members of the delegation and their lawyer Tom Berger will present the story of the Peel to an audience at Carleton University.

The chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in said the hearing over the future of the Peel will bring history to the territory.

It will determine how land use planning will be conducted in the Yukon with regard to the interpretation of the land claim agreements, Joseph said.

She told the audience the Tr’ondëk citizens told them to never stop fighting for protection of the Peel, to make sure the honour and intent of the final agreements was followed.

“It is a simple request,” the chief said. “And it is just a matter of respect and honour.”

In defence of its rejection of the land use plan recommended by the planning commission, the Yukon government relied on the clause that allowed it to approve, reject or modify the recommendation after all the public consultation had been completed.

But both the lower courts agreed the government’s less than honourable conduct happened long before that point, and therefore it was not entitled to use the approve, reject or modify provision at the end of the day.

Comments (10)

Up 3 Down 7

reality check on Mar 24, 2017 at 7:25 pm

ProScienceGreenie - who said I was against a park? I'm not against a park. I just know from reading your frequent posts that you are extremely supportive of resource extraction industries and therefore have my doubts that your concern is actually for animals and the ecosystem. Rather I believe you are angry that your much loved mining industry is not getting their way for once and want to lash out at the people who you see as supplanting them: the trophy hunting and ecotourism industries.

In fact, I too would like to see steep fees for ecotourism. Most of the operators are not even Canadian in terms of volume. They should be paying and paying well for what we preserve and offer here.

I also believe we are long past due for ending blood sport in the Yukon. Trophy hunting is pretty much an abomination. Killing for fun, ego, to feel manly - what is that?

I just had to laugh reading that all the sudden you want a big park. My guess is that you'd rather the Peel be open to the mining industry, but if the mining industry can't access and destroy it, then by gosh, nobody should be able to use it for their industry either! (even though there is no comparison between the industries in terms of destruction.) What a joke.

Up 21 Down 3

Tater on Mar 24, 2017 at 4:05 pm

And which taxpayers pocket did the cost of sending 30 people to Ottawa come from. It had to total more than $30,000.

Up 14 Down 6

drum on Mar 23, 2017 at 7:00 pm

I am all for a protected park forever to ensure that this wonderful piece of wilderness will be here for our great grandchildren and when all the other wonderful open spaces in the world have been destroyed. I am not First Nations - I am a proud Yukoner and wish to save what little is left for my great grandchildren.

Up 24 Down 7

Yukoner on Mar 23, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Does anyone else see the irony here? Many travel thousands of miles to attend a hearing about the environment which they want to protect. Fossil fuel anyone?

Up 28 Down 2

Fed up Yukoner on Mar 23, 2017 at 8:19 am

If the Peel is going to be protected and I am 100% in favour that there should be fairness. If exploration was to happen if the courts decide that way all proponents would have to go through YESAB and other permitting for the privilege of doing business in the Peel area. I think all users of the Protected area should have to go through the same process. If you are going to make $$ from trophy hunting, wildlife viewing, rafting or any other eco tourism business you should have to pay a hefty land use fee for this opportunity. Nothing more annoying or unfair is folks who use the land that belongs to everyone for diddly squat, make it fair, you make money you pay.

Up 15 Down 6

ProScience Greenie on Mar 22, 2017 at 5:45 pm

I want a great big park created in the Peel Watershed reality check and have been yapping about it boring people for some time now. A park with strict rules and hefty fees on the eco-tourism for-profit industry and zero blasting away at animals for trophies. A park that offers true wilderness protection forever. I am interested to know why you are so anti-park.

Up 6 Down 20

reality check on Mar 22, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Pro Mining Greenie is still angry that the mining industry will be disadvantaged while ecotourism and trophy hunting will be advantaged by protecting the Peel region.

Many of us applaud support for industries other than resource extraction.
As for the trophy hunting, that is a blood sport industry and its day is coming so don't worry.

Plus, I'm sure the outfitters in the area are not going to be particularly pleased if and when other tourism outfits start using the area for wild life and nature viewing and they will also have to 'suck it up', like the mining industry is going to have to.

Up 37 Down 4

Alex Franklin on Mar 22, 2017 at 11:32 am

Why did a local CBC reporter have to go to Ottawa?
There are a 100 CBC employees based in Ottawa that could have covered this.
With the CBC "no amount of taxpayer money is ever enough"

Up 9 Down 1

It will be back to the drawing boards on Mar 21, 2017 at 4:07 pm

for this project, with major consideration for First Nations sites.

Up 30 Down 7

ProScience Greenie on Mar 21, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Hope the SCC realizes that many in the Save the Peel crowd are actually lobbyists for the ecotourism and big game trophy hunting industries. It would be awesome if the SCC forced YTG to reboot the land use planning process and start again with a park option that would truly protect the Peel from for-profit exploitation.

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