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It's back to the drawing board for the Peel

The Yukon government has largely gotten its way in its appeal of the Peel watershed land use planning case.

The Yukon government has largely gotten its way in its appeal of the Peel watershed land use planning case.

The government’s own plan, which essentially inverted the planning commission’s recommendations by opening much of the remote region to mining, remains invalid, the Court of Appeal ruled this morning.

But the government is allowed, as it wanted, to go back to an earlier step in the planning process to “articulate its priorities in a valid matter.” And the territory won’t be bound by the restrictions put in place by a Yukon Supreme Court judge.

The panel of appeal judges ruled “Yukon undermined reconciliation by failing to honour the letter and spirit of its treaty obligations” when it released its plan for the 68,000 square kilometres of mostly undisturbed Yukon wilderness that was dramatically different from the 80 per cent protection recommended by the Peel land use planning commission.

The government didn’t provide adequate information explaining what changes it wanted during the consultation stage and “undermined the dialogue central to the plan for reconciliation.”

Still, they should be allowed to try again, the court ruled.

In 2011, then-resource minister Patrick Rouble wrote a letter to the commission, asking for a land-use plan with more balance and greater options for access. But the letter lacked many details, such as how much of the watershed should be protected or left open to development.

In the original Yukon Supreme Court decision last year, Justice Ron Veale quashed the government’s plan and ruled it couldn’t return to an earlier stage in the process to discuss those issues because this would allow it to “benefit from its flawed process.”

The Appeal Court disagreed.

Sending things back is not giving the Yukon government undue benefits, it said, it’s simply allowing “the process to unfold as it was meant to.”

The government must consult on the recommended plan and provide more details on the changes it wants to make.

They can’t just submit the same plan that led to the lawsuit, but other than that there are no limitations.

“With respect, it is not the court’s role to speculate on the extent to which any final plan emerging from a properly completed process would mirror Yukon’s Final Plan.”

The appeal pitted the Yukon government against three First Nations - the Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Vuntut Gwitchin - and environmental groups. They were represented by aboriginal law pioneer Thomas Berger.

The government has always insisted that it was simply “modifying” the recommended plan, something that the Umbrella Final Agreement allows it to do.

Berger argued the changes were far from a modification, because they make dramatic changes that the government never even talked about during the consultation process.

See Friday’s Yukon News for more.

Contact Ashley Joannou at