The Yukon Supreme Court has dismissed an application by the Ross River Dena Council seeking declarations relatedto the Yukon government’s issuance of hunting licences and seals in the First Nation’s traditional territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon Supreme Court dismisses RRDC case on hunting licences and seals

Justice Ron Veale found that there was no reason to make any of RRDC’s requested declarations.

The Yukon Supreme Court has dismissed an application by the Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) seeking declarations related to the Yukon government’s issuance of hunting licences and seals in the First Nation’s traditional territory.

Justice Ron Veale’s decision was released May 28.

RRDC had been seeking three declarations from the court — that the Yukon’s issuance of hunting licences and seals might adversely affect the Aboriginal title of RRDC members; that the Yukon government has a duty to consult with and, where indicated, accommodate the RRDC before issuing hunting licences and seals in the Ross River area; and that, from the 2016-17 to 2018-19 hunting seasons, the Yukon government had failed to do so.

The Yukon government opposed the application.

In his 17-page ruling, Veale wrote that there was no reason to give any of the declarations as they were matters that have either already been settled or concerned things the Yukon government was already doing.

There is no dispute that the Yukon government issuing hunting licences and seals might adversely affect RRDC’s “asserted Aboriginal claim to title,” Veale wrote, something that was settled in another of RRDC’s legal actions concerning wildlife from 2015.

The “real issue” in this case though, Veale wrote, was the question of asserted title versus established Aboriginal title, and whether RRDC, with the former, is entitled to the ownership rights of a First Nation with the latter.

“In my view, RRDC is at the claim stage of asserting Aboriginal title. It is not at the final resolution or shortly before the establishment of Aboriginal title,” Veale wrote.

As such, while the Yukon must consult with RRDC and accommodate it where appropriate, RRDC “does not have a right to veto any development or impose a duty to agree or require that RRDC consents to any developments in the Ross River Area,” the decision says.

Veale also noted that the Yukon government has acknowledged that it has a duty to consult with RRDC on wildlife management issues, and that “deep consultation” is required.

(Previous decisions on similar legal applications have found that the Yukon government has a duty to consult, but has not established the scope of the consultation.)

The Yukon government had not violated that duty, Veale found, and there has, in fact, been “extensive” and “deep consultation” on wildlife management issues that have resulted in “significant accommodation between Yukon and RRDC.”

“I find that Yukon has consulted extensively with RRDC representatives through sharing harvest results, the population surveys, and discussing wildlife management issues,” Veale wrote, noting that the Yukon government has gone as far as suspending hunting on the Finlayson caribou herd after RRDC raised concerns about the herd’s population.

Veale added that it was “not practical nor appropriate to make every holder of a licence and seal in Yukon subject to a duty to consult RRDC prior to issuance.”

In dismissing the application, Veale wrote that both the Yukon government and RRDC “have been engaged in consultation and will hopefully continue to do so as they both share a mutual interest in preserving wildlife populations.”

RRDC Chief Jack Caesar and lawyer Stephen Walsh declined to comment on the outcome May 28, saying they needed more time to thoroughly review the decision.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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