Referendum court case cost city $38,000

To save the cost of a $14,000 referendum, Whitehorse has run up $38,000 in legal fees. And the legal fight isn’t over yet.

To save the cost of a $14,000 referendum, Whitehorse has run up $38,000 in legal fees.

And the legal fight isn’t over yet.

After losing its initial fight with Marianne Darragh, Whitehorse has launched an appeal that has yet to be heard.

The legal challenge centres on Darragh’s petition calling for a referendum that could create a park around McLean Lake.

The city lost round one after Justice Ronald Veale ruled Darragh’s 2,654-person petition was valid. So the city launched an appeal.

The $38,000 figure includes preliminary work for the appeal, said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.

But it does not include Darragh’s legal costs, which Veale ruled the city should pay after causing Darragh unnecessary grief.

In its appeal, the city wants those costs stayed. It also wants Darragh to cover the city’s legal costs for the appeal.

The city also wants permission to hold off any work on the referendum request while the appeal is unfolding.

The city’s argument is that a referendum would cost the city approximately $14,000, which would be a waste if the appeal were to find that the original case erred.

A referendum is expensive and affects the public at large, according to court documents filed by city lawyers.

The Chamber of Commerce and other groups would be forced to bear costs in order to inform their members about the referendum, they say.

“They’re attempting to change legislation through the courts,” said Darragh.

“I knew the $14,000 was a bit of a nonissue considering the legal costs,” she said.

And those costs will mount with the appeal.

The city is appealing on the basis that Veale’s judgement erred in admitting the petition by interpreting that the Official Community Plan’s public consultation process and a referendum can work simultaneously.

Putting a park around McLean Lake would require amending the plan through a bylaw.

City officials have also argued Veale erred in finding that the petition question didn’t force the city to act outside of its jurisdiction.

A referendum to build a park around McLean Lake with a 500-meter buffer would affect one private lot as well as territorial land, says the city’s legal appeal.

The city can instruct private landowners to use land for a public purpose, but not through bylaws, it says.

The appeal will be heard on December 12th.

Contact James Munson at