The Yukon government has tabled amendments to mining legislation that will change how exploration takes place in some parts of the territory.
When the government announced a consultation on the changes in June, it proposed that all prospectors would have to notify the government before conducting Class 1 exploration activities on a mineral claim.
Currently, anyone holding a mining claim can complete Class 1 activities without notifying the government or affected First Nations. That level of work includes clearing trees, building trails, digging up rock and even the use of explosives.
But the amendments tabled this week suggest that notification and consultation will only be required in certain designated areas, and not across the Yukon.
Those areas have yet to be identified.
The government is currently consulting with First Nations and industry on what the regulations associated with this act will be, said Scott Kent, minister for energy, mines and resources, in an interview yesterday.
The changes come from a Yukon Court of Appeal decision that found that the Yukon government had infringed on the aboriginal rights of the Ross River Dena Council by allowing staking and Class 1 exploration in the First Nation’s traditional territory without notification or accommodation.
The government accepted that First Nation consultation might be required for some Class 1 exploration activities, but appealed the part of the ruling dealing with notification before claims are staked.
The Supreme Court of Canada denied the appeal in September.
Kent said that the government will deal with that section of the ruling by consulting with the Ross River Dena Council on what areas of its traditional territory might be withdrawn from staking on an interim basis.
Those discussions are currently underway, he said.
While the government is prepared to look at restricting staking in some areas where it might affect aboriginal rights and title, it is not considering a change to the free-entry mining claim regime, said Kent.
“The court decision didn’t question the free-entry system, and the Yukon government isn’t questioning it either.”
The rulings of the court decision were specific to the traditional territory of the Ross River Dena Council. However, the findings are likely applicable more broadly, in particular to other First Nations that have not signed land claims agreements.
However, the priority for now is to get the appropriate rules in place for Ross River territory, said Kent.
“Given the timelines, I think all Yukoners can respect that we’re under a bit of a time crunch to address it in that area, and then once that is complete then we will consider options for the other areas in the Yukon.”
The Yukon government must comply with the rulings of the appeals court by December 27.
When the changes were announced in June, representatives from the mining industry warned that changing the Class 1 exploration regime could shut down exploration investment in the territory.
Michael Kokiw, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, said this week that the group needs time to review the legislation and figure out how it will affect the industry.
“We were not privy, of course, to the amendments. They were kept secret by the cabinet. And now, after reviewing this morning, we have found them to be much more extensive than we originally thought, and we believe it may take us a little longer to do a review.”
The chamber will meet in the coming days to discuss the legislation, said Kokiw.
The Ross River Dena Council and its lawyers could not be reached by press time.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at