The Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan Signing Ceremony on Aug. 22, at Galena Park on the traditional territory of the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation in Mayo, Yukon. Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland Photography

Editor’s pick: 9 big stories in 2019

As 2019 comes to an end, here are some of the major stories that made news this year (in no particular order).

Peel plan gets signed

After 15 years of work and court cases that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, the land-use plan for the Peel watershed was signed by officials with the Yukon government and affected First Nations in August.

Under the plan 83 per cent of the more than 67,000-square-kilometre region has been set aside for conservation purposes.

Everything was supposed to be in place by January 2020 but the Yukon government recently announced it was extending the moratorium on staking in the area to April 2020 to give all sides more time to develop guidelines for how exploration in the few available areas will work.

Cozens goes seventh

Dylan Cozens made history June 21 when he was selected seventh overall by the Buffalo Sabres at the 2019 NHL draft in Vancouver.

Cozens is the first player born and raised in the Yukon to be selected in the first round of the NHL draft.

Since being drafted, Cozens has been sent back to the Lethbridge Hurricanes. He is currently ranked third in scoring in the WHL.

In December Cozens was named to the roster for Team Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.

Fight continues over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

In September the American government released its final environmental impact statement for development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The plan lays out the most aggressive oil and gas program in part of the refuge, giving near total access to companies interested in pursuing leases.

Yukon governments, including both the territorial government and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, have been vocal opponents to development in the refuge which includes the calving grounds for the sacred Porcupine caribou herd. The Yukon government has criticized the American plan as requiring more rigorous analysis of potential effects to the environment, wildlife and Indigenous cultures.

Most recently, a Yukon delegation has been pushing Canadian banks not to fund development in the area.

Multiple governments declare a climate emergency

The year 2019 was the year of the climate emergency in the Yukon. First, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation declared a climate emergency in May. The City of Whitehorse followed suit in September and Yukon MLAs in the legislative assembly formally made the same declaration in October.

The Yukon government released its plan to combat climate change in November. The goal is to reduce Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 numbers.

Teslin Tlingit Council wins court battle with Ottawa over funding agreement

In January a Yukon Supreme Court judge ruled that Ottawa must take all Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC) citizens into account in funding negotiations with the First Nation. Funding agreements are supposed to be renewed every five years. TTC’s has only been extended since 2010.

The First Nation argued in court that it has been chronically underfunded for years because Canada refused or failed to negotiate funding in a way that adheres to its self-government and final agreements.

Under its final agreement, TTC citizenship is based not on status under the Indian Act, but on a blood quantum system. But Canada based its funding for the First Nation on how many of TTC citizens are “Status Indians” instead of TTC’s own citizenship count.

The judge ruled that Canada has a legal obligation to negotiate an agreement with TTC for funding based on the TTC’s citizenship, not “status.”

The First Nation’s lawyer said the decision sets a “significant new precedent” for other self-governing Yukon First Nations negotiating their own financial agreements.

Final report by National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is released

In June the final report by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released.

The more than 1,200-page document contains 231 calls for justice and is the result of two-and-a-half years of work that saw the inquiry travelling across the country to hear the testimonies of more than 2,380 families, survivors, knowledge-keepers and elders.

The report says the systemic violence against Indigenous women and girls that has been “condoned by the Canadian state” amounts to genocide.

Yukon government takes over some NGO services

On Jan. 31, the Yukon government took control of the downtown Whitehorse emergency shelter, formerly called the Centre of Hope, from the Salvation Army. Officials at the time said certain expectations of care were not being met by the Christian organization.

Since then the Yukon government says it has seen an increase in use of the shelter. Neighbours and area businesses have also complained about safety concerns.

Government officials say they are working to make improvements.

The Yukon government also made major changes to how counselling services are offered in the territory.

Conflict at Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services was in the news repeatedly in 2019. The year started the way 2018 ended, with the organization not offering any services — first because counsellors were on strike and later when a lack of funding meant those counsellors were laid off.

In April, after an investigation by the territory’s registrar, officials said they wanted to get back up and running but that never happened.

In the end, even a new board could not keep things afloat. With too much debt to pay off, Many Rivers could not qualify for its required government funding and had to shut its doors.

The government’s health branch and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Yukon division (CMHA) and the All Genders Yukon Society were chosen to provide services instead.

Electoral reform promises stall

At the beginning of the year it looked as though 2019 was going to be when the territorial Liberals followed through on their election promise to consider electoral reform. By the end of the year everyone was at a standstill.

Premier Sandy Silver announced a three-person electoral reform commission. Yukon’s opposition parties cried foul almost immediately claiming they hadn’t been given a say in who would be on the commission.

In August the chair of the commission abruptly quit. She has not provided a public explanation for her decision.

A former clerk of the legislative assembly sent a letter to the Members Services Board, tabled in October, criticizing the Liberals’ chosen process for electoral reform and calling for an all-party committee. Silver originally disagreed with the idea but by the end of November appeared to change his mind.

At the last minute the premier put forward a motion in the legislative assembly that would have led to the creation of an all-party committee but that motion was pulled because the clerk’s office found it was out of order. It was not resubmitted so now all sides are in a holding pattern.

Yukon approves changes to the use of segregation

The Yukon government passed changes to the Corrections Act which officials say will bring greater structure and guidance to operations at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, particularly around the use of segregation.

The Yukon became the first jurisdiction in Canada to formally adopt the portion of the United Nation’s Nelson Mandela Rules regarding solitary confinement.

The law now has definitions for “segregation” and “restrictive confinement” based on how much time an inmate is deprived of meaningful social interaction instead of simply their physical locations within the jail.

The changes limit on how long inmates may spend in segregation, under what conditions segregation would be inappropriate, and allowing for the appointment of independent adjudicators to review the circumstances under which inmates are kept in segregation or restrictive confinement.

Earlier in the year a Yukon Supreme Court judge found that the Yukon government did not have the legal authority to create the secure living unit at the jail, which he concluded was separate confinement by a different name. He gave the jail nine months to address the issues.

This wasn’t the only time the use of segregation was in the news. In late 2019 it was revealed that a Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmate was left in a cell covered in his own feces for hours in 2018, despite recommendations from a nurse to remove him from the unsanitary conditions.

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