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Court fines jet boaters caught in Kluane National Park

Fines and restitution ordered to recover costs of helicopter search, retrieving broken boat.
The Dezadeash River flows through Kluane National Park. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News Files)

A group of boaters are on the hook for thousands in fines and restitution after being caught returning from an area of Kluane National Park, where powered watercraft are prohibited. One of the boats became immobilized in the park and had to be choppered out while the others were ticketed.

Six of the boaters plead guilty to National Parks Act offences and accepted $1,000 fines on March 8. A park ranger had witnessed either the operators or passengers of jet boats being loaded back onto trailers at the Dezadeash River boat launch in Haines Junction.

The Yukon Territorial Court heard that all six of the individuals who were fined were very cooperative with the ranger and honestly acknowledged that they had been boating in the national park on Sept. 17, 2022. The case of one of the boat owners, Todd Whitehead, whose case was more complicated because his boat was left stranded in the park due to a mechanical issue, was heard by Judge Peter Chisholm on March 10.

The court heard that Whitehead was also very cooperative, but wanted to present about the appropriate fine or restitution to cover the helicopter search conducted by the park rangers on the day the boats were in the park and the recovery of his stranded vessel the following day.

Prior to Whitehead’s arguments, the judge heard the facts. The events of Sept. 17 began when a National Park staff member spotted seven vehicles with empty boat trailers at an infrequently used boat launch on the Dezadeash River, 200 metres downstream of the park boundary. Finding this suspicious, they notified park rangers who initiated a search by helicopter.

The search turned up Whitehead’s boat on the bank of a river in the park with no one around. When park employees returned to the boat launch they found the group of boaters halfway through loading their boats back onto trailers. The group was forthcoming with details about how they had travelled as far as Lowell Lake deep in the park via the Alsek River. Whitehead also acknowledged that the immobile boat was his.

The court heard that the boaters had travelled through a special conservation zone to get to the lake and that almost all of their route is closed to motorized boat traffic.

Whitehead’s boat was removed from the area by helicopter and taken to a secure compound the day after it was located.

The National Parks Act provides for first offence fines of up to $25,000, but the court heard that Whitehead and the crown counsel had discussed no fine, but strict payment of restitution to cover the costs associated with getting his boat out of the park.

Total costs associated with both days of helicopter flight totalled almost $9,000. The search on Sept. 17 was appreciably more expensive than the recovery of the boat the following day.

Appearing in court unrepresented by a lawyer, Whitehead argued that he should only be held fully responsible for the Sept. 18 flight as the one the day before was searching for multiple boats.

Chisholm said that it seems fair that the costs of the Sept. 17 flight should be divided seven ways and found that the fines the other boaters had already agreed to pay could serve as restitution.

Whitehead claimed that he was unaware that powered boats weren’t allowed in the area his boat was found in. In court, he took responsibility for his lack of knowledge regarding the rules, but noted that the normal convention at boat launches is to have posted signage explaining rules including speed limits, fishing catch limits and off-limits areas whereas the park regulations state that signage is to be used to indicate the select areas where powered boats are allowed.

Per the Parks Canada website, motorboats are only allowed on Kathleen Lake and Mush Lake in Kluane National Park.

He also sought a $1,000 reduction in his final restitution payment citing damage to the vinyl wrap on his boat.

Chisholm imposed a nominal $50 fine and also ordered Whitehead to pay $3,800 in restitution.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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