Ottawa is appealing a federal court ruling that it pay $67 million in damages to the owners of a defunct sawmill outside Watson Lake.
The May ruling found that federal employees deliberately starved the mill of wood, despite repeated assurances made to the company by senior staff and politicians that wood would be forthcoming.
Justice Elizabeth Heneghan also found after her 39-day trial that Indian and Northern Affairs employees behaved in a “harsh, vindictive, reprehensible and malicious” manner towards the sawmill owners, South Yukon Forest Corporation and Liard Plywood and Lumber Manufacturing. She found the government committed breach of contract, negligence and negligent representation.
On September 3, the federal government filed its notice of appeal. In it, the Crown argues that the judge “made palpable and overriding errors of fact in her assessment of the evidence, misapprehended the evidence, misconstrued the evidence, ignored the evidence and made findings that were wholly unsupported by the evidence.”
Suzanne Duncan, regional director of the Department of Justice, said the appeal would likely be heard in Whitehorse by autumn of next year.
The May ruling cast powerful people in a bad light. Ron Irwin, a former Liberal minister of Northern Affairs, was found by the judge to have “demonstrated a selective memory,” “sparred unnecessarily with counsel in order to avoid answering questions” and “frequently chose to avoid the question asked” by adding “irrelevant comments designed to distract from the main issues.”
The judge also took a dim view of Ted Staffen, one of the company’s investors, who is now speaker of Yukon’s legislature. “I do not find his evidence to be reliable about this meeting and give it little weight,” the judge wrote.