Outfitter question in limbo

Sixty days ago, the government demanded Bonnet Plume Outfitters provide documents proving it had permission to build a cabin near the Bonnet Plume…

Sixty days ago, the government demanded Bonnet Plume Outfitters provide documents proving it had permission to build a cabin near the Bonnet Plume River.

Since then, not much has happened. The two-storey cookhouse and three smaller buildings the company built between 2005 and 2006 remain standing.

“There were filings made last week in the court registry — the short update is that between now and February 24 there will probably be an exchange of material between (government) lawyers and the company,” said Energy, Mines and Resources spokesman Ron Billingham on Thursday.

“After February 24, we’ll have to see what happens as a result of that exchange of information,” he said.

Depending on what documents are received, the government will decide whether the case should go to court, he said.

“We’re seeking to find their reason for being there,” said Billingham. “I think the whole process is balanced to allow them to make a case to explain why they chose that spot to build on.”

Many believed the Bonnet Plume issue would be resolved much faster.

Premier Dennis Fentie committed to swift action on the file in December while under intense pressure in the Yukon legislature.

Without documented proof, the government planned to seek a court order to have the main cook cabin and several outbuildings removed, said Fentie on December 15 — the day government lawyers filed an affidavit with the Yukon courts.

“Legal documentation, proving legal occupancy or standing, must be provided,” he said repeatedly during question period in December.

After the December 15 deadline passed, officials with Energy, Mines and Resources told the News that Bonnet Plume had responded, but the response was deemed insufficient.

A package of the government’s evidence was then sent to the company’s owners, Chris and Sharron McKinnon.

The couple had one week to respond: if they did, a court date would be set; if they didn’t, a judge could sign an order giving them 30 days to respond before ordering the cabins removed, Billingham explained in an interview in late December.

“They get another kick at the can, as it were,” he said at the time.

Some are now questioning how many cans need to be kicked.

“Mr. Fentie was very clear in the house that legal documents were being filed, forcing the outfitter to provide evidence that they had authority to build,” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell on Friday.

“Mr. Fentie was clear that if that wasn’t forthcoming within the time-period, then action would be taken,” he said.

With the deadline expired and documents (to his knowledge) still not provided, Mitchell is questioning the government’s approach.

“This is all part of the smoke and mirrors around this entire policy,” he said.

However, his growing skepticism extends beyond Bonnet Plume.

In the fall, Fentie said consultations with First Nations governments on the big game outfitters policy — which governs Bonnet Plume and other Yukon outfitters — was finished by the federal government many years ago, said Mitchell.

The opposition pushed the government to say whether consultations would be re-opened, as several First Nations governments were outraged about the new rules.

“Mr. Fentie said, ‘No, that ship has sailed — that’s done,’” said Mitchell.

But the policy, it seems, has been re-opened.

A team of four representatives from the Council of Yukon First Nations is being assembled to sit down with the government and examine the policy, CYFN grand chief Andy Carvill said in early February.

“We want to look at what changes need to be done,” said Carvill.

“Going into the Yukon Forum, media were told by the government that it was not on the agenda,” he said.

“As soon as we sat down, I advised the premier it is indeed on the agenda. I think we came out (of the Yukon Forum) with a pretty good way forward.”

Mitchell welcomes consultations between the two sides on the policy.

But he would prefer Fentie to provide accurate information to the opposition about it, he said.

“Now he’s (Carvill) come out that they are, indeed, negotiating on the policy,” said Mitchell. “I feel we were misled in the house.”

Acting NDP leader John Edzerza shares Mitchell’s overall concerns with the government’s treatment of the policy.

“They’re sort of wanting to accommodate the outfitters without having, in my opinion, stringent guidelines,” said Edzerza.

“These conflicts that are coming up with the cabins: one has to wonder what’s going on because, according to the outfitter, they had permission,” he said.