The Yukon government has met all obligations to First Nations through the Peel planning process, according to a statement of defence filed in Yukon Supreme Court this week.
The document is in response to a lawsuit filed by the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in over the Yukon’s new plan for the Peel watershed, which opens up 71 per cent of the area to new mineral staking.
The plan recommended by the planning commission called for only 20 per cent of the area to be opened for industrial development.
But the Yukon government was within its rights to change that plan, according to the statement of defence.
That is in part because the planning commission failed to deliver the balance between land-use interests that the government had asked for, it asserts.
“The commission abandoned its attempt to find balance between competing land-use interests and instead adopted an approach that favoured conservation over all other uses, including resource development.”
The government also says that the affected First Nations were not open to consultations on its proposed changes to the plan.
“Efforts to consult with the four affected First Nations were largely rebuffed,” according to the statement of claim.
The government argues that changes made in the final plan flow from instructions given to the commission earlier in the process that asked for a better balance between interests and more options for access.
It has asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed with costs awarded to the Yukon government.
The government is in the process of retaining John Hunter, a B.C. lawyer with experience defending against First Nations in land disputes, according to a press release.