Three Yukon First Nations say they plan to follow through with threats to sue the federal government over Bill S-6, which includes four controversial amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, and Teslin Tlingit Council say they expect to file a formal court action within a month.
“By passing Bill S-6, this Conservative government has demonstrated that they are not willing to truly work with First Nations governments and has brought uncertainty to our territory,” Little Salmon Carmacks Chief Eric Fairclough said in a news release on Thursday. “This is just one more case of the Government of Canada failing to honour modern treaties in Canada.”
The First Nations will be represented by Gregory McDade, a B.C.-based lawyer specializing in aboriginal consultation and major resource projects.
Bill S-6 was introduced in June 2014, and aimed to streamline regulatory processes in the territories. But Yukon First Nations claim they were not consulted about some of the proposed amendments to the YESAA, and that the bill undermines the Umbrella Final Agreement.
The offending amendments would impose timelines on assessments and allow permit renewals and amendments without new assessments. They would also allow a federal minister to give binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, and to delegate authority to a territorial minister.
First Nations have threatened a lawsuit since well before the bill was passed in June.
Mining executives have also expressed concern about the bill. In 2014, Casino Mining president Paul West-Sells sent a letter to the federal government warning about the damaging effect the controversy might have on the territory’s mining industry.
On Thursday, Yukon NDP and Liberal parties released statements condemning the Yukon Party’s support of the bill.
“The fact that Bill S-6 has now joined the Peel watershed land use plan in court is a clear sign that Yukon’s First Nations are not being treated as partners in government,” said Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson.
Liberal Leader Sandy Silver said the Yukon Party and federal Conservatives have “no one but themselves to blame for the negative impact this court case will have on an already reeling hard-rock mining industry.”
The announcement of the lawsuit was timed to coincide with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Whitehorse this week.
Harper arrived on Thursday, and was expected to speak on Friday to promote the Conservative plan for jobs and economic growth.
Premier Darrell Pasloski and Conservative MP Ryan Leef did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
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