by Ken Taylor
The Yukon territorial government recently passed Bill No. 82 – the Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act. For those of us who have been working to try to help the government understand the important issues associated with use and misuse of ATVs in the territory, this should have been a good day. It was not.
In short, this legislation provided two things:
It requires that people driving snowmobiles and ATVs on maintained roads (those that are used by cars and trucks and have snow removed and potholes filled) must do what everyone else who uses maintained roads must do – have a license, register your vehicle, and hold liability insurance to protect third parties. Users of roads in nine of Yukon’s smaller communities are exempt from these rules.
In addition, helmets will have to be worn on maintained roads, and riders under 16 will have to wear a helmet all the time. Does the government believe that once a rider turns 16, they no longer are at risk of head injury?
As Porky the Pig said, “that’s all, folks!” That’s the best they could do. Is that the limit of their collective vision and wisdom on this issue? These are laughably minor alterations to existing rules and in no way do they fulfill the commitment made by the Yukon Party prior to the last election to provide legislation and regulations to manage ATVs in the Yukon wilderness. Often in these matters a lot can be learned, not from what is done, but instead by what is not done. What was not done here, and what most definitely should have been done, was to provide for registration of all ATVs, regardless of where they are being used.
Now, let me provide some context. TOYA, Trails Only Yukon Association, has been working on behalf of its 434 members for the past five years to raise public awareness about the damage being done to Yukon wilderness by ATVs. We have also been attempting to educate territorial government politicians (the public servants already get it) to help them understand the scope of damage already done in the wilderness, and the need for immediate action to limit further destruction. We have commissioned polls (93 per cent of Yukoners want ATVs managed in the Yukon wilderness). We have held public meetings and they have been very well attended. The vast majority of Yukon people want something to be done.
To its credit, the government passed amendments to the Territorial Lands (Yukon) Act a year ago. This was supposed to be enabling legislation that would allow the development of regulations to manage ATVs. We were assured that there would be early consultations with Yukon people on the content of these important regulations, but that has not happened. Nothing was done in the spring, nothing in the summer, and nothing in the fall.
And while the government dithers, the damage continues to mount.
So why is Bill 82 so important? Because what the government refused to do was provide for registration of all ATVs. Does this mean that they have no intention of enforcing whatever regulations they put in place? Even a child can see that if you can’t identify an offending ATV and its user, you have very little chance of successfully prosecuting that person. Minister Dixon told CBC radio that registration is not necessary because you can easily see the color of the ATV and the color of the helmet on the rider. Strangely, he is not requiring helmets to be worn by almost all riders, so there goes that theory! No enforcement officer in his or her right mind is going to go before a judge and seek a conviction on the basis of a red ATV with a blue helmet. And therein lies the folly of Bill 82.
Registration is a big deal. Every provincial jurisdiction in Canada with the exception of Alberta requires it. British Columbia recently passed off road vehicle legislation that was supported by a broad cross section of B.C. residents including ATV user groups. It provided for a one-time $48 registration and licence plate. Not much for something so critical to effective enforcement. We are required to register our boats in the Yukon. ATVs should be no different.
Trust is built by what we do, not by what we say. This government has not done what it said it would do, and Yukon people cannot be expected to trust the government if it continues to delay, stonewall, and hide from its responsibility to provide wise stewardship of our beautiful territory. Most ATV riders are responsible people who love the Yukon, and they will benefit from effective prosecution of those who choose to damage our wildlife and wilderness. The government should reconsider the shortcomings of this legislation and fix the problem. It’s a matter of trust.
Ken Taylor wrote this commentary with input from TOYA steering committee members Vern Peters, Ellen Johnson, Pete Harms, Tony Grabowski, Philip Merchant and Manfred Hoefs.