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Yukon seeks Outside help with Peel lawsuit

With a flurry of lawsuits on the Yukon government's doorstep, the territory is looking Outside for legal firepower.

With a flurry of lawsuits on the Yukon government’s doorstep, the territory is looking Outside for legal firepower.

Yukon announced this week that it will hire John Hunter of Vancouver’s Hunter Litigation Chambers to defend against a lawsuit launched by First Nations over the new plan for the Peel watershed.

“The Yukon government, like other governments across Canada, frequently makes use of outside council,” said Lesley McCullough with Justice. “And the decision as to whether to retain outside council and whom to retain in any particular case ... takes into account a number of factors including expertise, workload, whether any particular skills, in some cases language abilities are needed for francophone trials, etcetera.”

Hunter specializes in representing private sector clients whose commercial interests have been effected by public law, according to information on his website. He has an expertise in forestry and aboriginal litigation.

Hunter represented Weyerhaeuser Co. in Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests), a landmark Supreme Court of Canada on the duty to consult First Nations over land rights.

The question arose over a tree farm licence granted to Weyerhaeuser on lands where the Haida had a claimed right to harvest cedar.

While the court found that B.C. “failed to engage in meaningful consultation at all,” it also found that the duty to consult did not extend to the company. It relieved Weyerhaeuser of paying any costs to the First Nation as well.

Hunter did not respond to an interview request by press time.

“Government came to a conclusion that in this case John Hunter was an appropriate choice of council, and Mr. Hunter was certainly willing to act for us,” said McCullough.

How much Hunter’s services will cost the Yukon government is yet to be seen, as it will depend on how the case progresses through the courts.

“The cost of litigation and cost of council is always going to be dependent upon the nature of the manner of which the case progresses.”

The plaintiffs in this case, including the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, will be represented by Thomas Berger.

Berger is a famed lawyer in the area of aboriginal rights who is best known for his work as commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, which released its findings in 1977.

The Yukon government must also respond in the coming weeks to a lawsuit launched by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation over a proposed campground on Atlin Lake, within its traditional territory.

The First Nation says it was not appropriately consulted or accommodated on the decision.

The Gwich’in Tribal Council has also promised legal action against the Yukon over the Peel, independent from the lawsuit launched by Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Nacho Nyak Dun.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at