Shelley Cuthbert has until March 1 to vacate the territorial land she and 60 dogs have been occupying near Tarfu Lake since the summer of 2018.
That was the decision made by Deputy Justice Bryan Mahoney during a 9 a.m. Supreme Court hearing on Jan. 25.
“I find that she is occupying territorial land that she does not have the proper permission to occupy,” said Mahoney in his decision, which came months after Cuthbert relocated her Tagish-based dog rescue onto the territorial lands.
Cuthbert has maintained the tents and fences she erected on the property are temporary, and that she’s legally camping.
“She and her multitude of dogs are not camping, they are squatting,” Mahoney said.
He said that in making the decision, he considered the financial and emotional strain Cuthbert has been under in the last few months, as well as the fact she has nowhere to return to (she abandoned the Tagish home where she had been running her rescue operation).
“Given Miss Cuthbert’s circumstances, she must vacate on or before March 1, 2019,” Mahoney said. “If Miss Cuthbert fails to vacate the Tarfu site according to this order, the minister is authorized without further order to effect the summary removal of Miss Cuthbert from the lands including the removal of all fences, tents and other structures and all dogs and other things belonging to Miss Cuthbert.”
“This ruling allows Miss Cuthbert to further make arrangements to locate her dog rescue on appropriately-zoned private land or make proper applications to locate on territorial land.”
Mahoney said territorial lands must be protected against environmental degradation, and that they must be accessible to all Yukoners. The presence of Cuthbert’s dog rescue opposes both.
Cuthbert declined to comment, saying only that the decision was “bullshit.”
“All I’m trying to do is live,” she said through tears. “What’s wrong with that?”
The decision came a day after an hour-long hearing, which took place on Jan. 23.
At that time, Lawyer Julie DesBrisay, representing the Yukon Department of Energy Mines and Resources (EMR), told the court that Cuthbert’s use of the area was interfering with the comfort and safety of other people in the area.
In EMR’s view, DesBrisay said, Cuthbert is “unlawfully occupying territorial lands, or squatting on the site,” and her extended and continued occupation of the site was “excluding” the public from the land.
Cuthbert was also mistaken in interpreting territorial legislation as allowing her to camp for up to 400 days, DesBrisay argued; instead, the provision in the Land Use Regulation simply sets a threshold for when someone is required to obtain a land use permit.
The provision does not allow for someone to squat for up to 400 days, DesBrisay argued, and if interpreted as such, would lead to the “absurd” result that any number of people could sidestep requirements to obtain a disposition of territorial land as long as they moved spots at least once every 400 days.
DesBrisay requested an order requiring Cuthbert to vacate the site as well as remove all structures, tent, debris “and of course, dogs.”
In her submissions, Cuthbert, who was representing herself, argued that she was, in fact, meeting the legal definition of camping, and was in the process of finding a suitable piece of land for which she would obtain a permit and relocate to as soon as possible.
“To me, it’s not squatting. It’s not exclusive use (of the land), you can walk in if you’re not scared of the dogs” she said, adding that all of her structures were temporary, above-ground and easily removable.
Cuthbert said that she had wanted to apply for a land use permit or disposition before, but had been discouraged by a natural resource officer to do so, adding that she was “frustrated” because she wanted to follow rules, but was being told different things by different people.
She said the size of site she was occupying was only because of the number of dogs in her care, and while she still technically told the title to her house in Tagish, she can’t return there due to the court order limiting her to keeping no more than two dogs on the property.
“These dogs are my responsibility,” she said. “I’m not giving up on these dogs… All I want to do is finish up my 400 days camping, find another location and I’ll be on my way.”
“I have a right to shelter,” she added.
With files from Jackie Hong
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org