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Yukon government wins case over Ross River hunting licences

The Ross River Dena Council has lost its bid to force the territorial government to consult prior to issuing hunting licences and tags in the Yukon.

The Ross River Dena Council has lost its bid to force the territorial government to consult prior to issuing hunting licences and tags in the Yukon.

In his decision released last week, Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale agreed that Yukon’s annual issuance of licences and seals has the potential to adversely affect aboriginal title and the right to hunt in the Ross River area.

But he concluded Environment Yukon already satisfied the duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate the First Nation.

“There is no doubt that Environment Yukon has made continuing and extensive efforts to consult RRDC about wildlife management in the Ross River area, although the evidence does not establish that this consultation occurs on a regular and predictive basis,” he ruled.

Declarations from the court need to be used sparingly, the judge said. In this case issuing a court order to consult would not change much, Veale said.

The judge did encourage the two sides to get together more regularly talk things through, even without the official declaration from the court.

“I do want to observe that in my view there would be benefit to convening regular and predictable, i.e. annual consultations with RRDC at the time that Yukon considers its annual hunting regulations,” he said.

“It strikes me that this would be an effective and reliable way of ensuring that RRDC’s claims to title and hunting rights within the Ross River area are recognized.”

The Ross River Dena Council filed the lawsuit last year and it went to court this past August. The First Nation wanted a court order that the government had a duty to consult prior to issuing hunting licences and seals under the Wildlife Act.

It wasn’t looking to be consulted on each individual licence in its traditional territory. Instead, it wanted something more overarching at the beginning of the hunting season.

The Yukon government responded to the lawsuit with a 219-page affidavit from the director of the fish and wildlife branch that outlines some of the reports, letters and emails it said shows efforts to work with the First Nation.

The First Nation’s territory covers about 63,000 square kilometres in the north end of the Kaska traditional territory, including the communities of Ross River and Faro.

The First Nation has already won a similar case dealing with the same block of land.

In that case, the court of appeal ruled the Yukon government needs to consult with unsigned First Nation governments, like Ross River, before a mineral claim is staked on its traditional lands.

New staking has been banned in the area ever since while the government consults and continues to work on updating the regulations.

Veale ruled this case about hunting is different.

In the mineral case the First Nation was being denied the consultations it is entitled to, he said.

“Here, the duty to consult is acknowledged and performed.”

According to Veale’s decision, between 1995 and 2013, an average of 164 moose, 69 caribou and 29 sheep were harvested annually in the Ross River Area. That represents 24 per cent of the Yukon harvest for moose, 30 per cent for caribou and 12 per cent for sheep.

Contact Ashley Joannou at