The Yukon government has announced it will appeal the Peel River watershed decision.
In December, Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale struck down the Yukon government’s land use plan for the Peel.
He ruled the government overstepped when it introduced its own plan after the lengthy land use planning process had wrapped up.
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Scott Kent said the appeal will focus on the part of Veale’s decision that deals with how to remedy the situation.
“We can accept the court’s interpretation that the process should have worked differently. The appeal won’t challenge that. It’s focused on the remedy that’s set out in the decision,” he said.
Veale said the government had to go back to consult with Yukoners and First Nations again on the planning commission’s final recommended plan. After that it can only make modifications that were proposed in detail at an earlier stage.
The judge specifically excluded the possibility that the government revisit the questions of balance between protection and development, and options for building new roads or other surface access into the area.
On these questions the government never provided the commission with any detailed proposal so that it could consider what the government wanted, and why, Veale ruled.
Kent said that part of the ruling restricts the government’s ability to make decisions about public land on behalf of Yukoners and “ties us too closely to the commission’s final recommended plan that – I don’t think it’s any secret that we don’t support the final recommended plan.”
Kent said the appeal is about more than this particular land use planning process.
“It’s really the ability of future governments to make decisions with respect to future land use plans on what happens on public lands. We feel that that’s the critical issue in our appeal – is that we need to make those decisions about public land on behalf of all Yukoners, as we’re the ones that were elected to represent them.”
He would not say what type of remedy the government will be suggesting instead. That information will come out as more documents are filed with the court, he said.
The Yukon government is not appealing Veale’s finding that the government ran afoul of the process. But that doesn’t mean there are any regrets, Kent said.
“No, I don’t think so. As I mentioned, we felt that the process that we followed was the process set out in the Umbrella Final Agreement, and that was done to a tee.”
In 2011 a planning commission recommended that 80 per cent of the Peel watershed be protected from new roads and development and 20 per cent should be open for resource industries.
In January 2014 the Yukon government released its own plan for the Peel, which opened up 71 per cent of the area to new mineral staking.
That led to the lawsuit launched by the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and conservation groups.
The Yukon government has always insisted it followed the letter of the law. But that’s not good enough when it comes to agreements that involve aboriginal rights, said Veale in his decision.
“The plain reading interpretation endorsed by the government does not enhance the goal of reconciliation and is inconsistent with the honour and integrity of the Crown.”
The chiefs for both First Nations involved in case say they are prepared to continue fighting.
“It’s unfortunate that Yukon government continues to create uncertainty for industry in Yukon by extending this process even further, but we are ready and willing to continue for as long as it is necessary to protect the integrity of our final agreements,” said Chief Ed Champion of Nacho Nyak Dun.
“We trust that the public and other First Nation governments will continue to stand with us to protect the Peel watershed.”
Chief Roberta Joseph of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in said she found out about the Yukon government’s plan to appeal at the same time as everyone else – on Tuesday on the radio.
“Yukon government is basing their decision on the authority they have for a democratic government. I feel that democracy is not one-sided. It’s about honouring agreements and partnerships,” Joseph said.
“I feel that there is no real trust in this government in regards to having any sort of partnerships in any matters.”
NDP MLA Kate White and Liberal Leader Sandy Silver criticized the government for saying the appeal upholds democracy.
Both pointed out that prior to the last election, the Yukon Party was tight lipped on its preferred plan for the Peel region.
“All through 2011 and 2012, any time this has been going on, we’ve asked direct questions about what their plan was for the Peel,” said White. “There was no answer. There never was an answer.
“So it’s interesting to me now that this is the route that they’re taking, the justification that they’re taking, because they didn’t answer questions when people asked them prior to putting the vote in.”
“This undercuts their entire rationale for an appeal – it holds no water,” Silver said. “The real story is the Yukon Party’s inability to admit it is wrong.”
Meanwhile, there will be a staking ban in the Peel during court proceedings. This also means existing claim holders won’t be required to work claims.
According to the department of Energy, Mines and Resources, there are about 9,000 claims in the area. There have been no new claims since 2010, when the first staking ban in the region was ordered.
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