The Fight for the Peel Watershed Continues
On August 20 and 21, 2015 the Peel court case was heard at the Yukon Court of Appeal in Whitehorse. At this hearing, the Yukon Government argued that the Yukon Supreme Court ruling by Justice Ronald Veale be dismissed. The respondents (the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, CPAWS Yukon and YCS), supported through an intervention by the Gwich’in Tribal Council, defended against this appeal and argued that Justice Veale’s ruling be upheld. Earlier on November 4, 2015, Chief Justice Bauman, Madam Justice Smith and Justice Goepel of the Yukon Court of Appeal confirmed the Yukon Government failed to honour its treaty obligations with respect to the Peel Watershed Land Use Plan. With respect to the question of remedy, the Court of Appeal directed that the process should go back to the stage when the Yukon Government’s breach of the Final Agreements began. The Court found that this occurred back in February of 2011. You can find the respondent's response here.
The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, CPAWS Yukon and YCS launched the legal proceedings on January 27, 2014, alleging that Yukon Government broke with the land use planning process laid out in the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA), and incorporated in all the First Nations Final Agreements in Yukon. The plaintiffs sought to have the process set out in the UFA upheld and to see the planning through to a conclusion that would protect more than 54,000 square kilometers of wilderness in northern Yukon’s Peel River Watershed from mining and other industrial development.
The week of July 7 – 10, 2014 renowned lawyer Thomas R. Berger O.C., Q.C. argued the landmark constitutional case in the Supreme Court of Yukon in front of a packed house. The case was then continued on October 24 to accommodate a deeper discussion focused on remedy. On December 2, 2014 Justice Ron Veale delivered his written decision in which he agreed with the plaintiffs. In his reasons for judgment, Justice Veale agreed with the plaintiffs that Yukon Government violated the land use planning process laid out in the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA) with respect to the Peel Watershed Land Use Plan. The planning process will now return to the stage where Yukon Government ran it off the rails – the final round of consultation with First Nations and the public. The court order constrains Yukon Government to the modifications they previously proposed but the question of the amount of land protected and the question of access are off limits.
On December 30th, 2014 the Yukon government announced they were appealing Justice Veale’s decision.
In May 2015 the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation joined the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, CPAWS Yukon and YCS as a respondent to the appeal by Yukon Government. The Gwich’in Tribal Council will be intervening in support of the respondents at the Yukon Court of Appeal hearing.
You can read the Yukon government's Appeal argument here.
You can read the Appeal response from Thomas Berger on behalf of the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, CPAWS Yukon and YCS here.
The Yukon government recently made an historic decision: to open one of the world's biggest natural treasures, the Peel River watershed, to development. Home to the greatest constellation of wild mountain rivers in North America, the Peel Watershed is one of the last large intact ecosystems on the continent.
CPAWS has joined a coalition of two Yukon First Nations and another Yukon environmental organization to launched a legal case to defend the Peel Watershed, represented by Thomas R. Berger, O.C, Q.C.
The week of July 7 – 10th renowned lawyer Thomas R. Berger argued a landmark constitutional case in Yukon Supreme Court on behalf of the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon Chapter and the Yukon Conservation Society. Mr. Berger argued that the courts should force the Government of Yukon to implement a land use plan that would protect more than 54,000 square kilometers of wilderness in northern Yukon’s Peel River Watershed from mining and industrial development. See media release.
Hundreds of people attended the trial and associated events. Re-live the week of the court case!
After 6 years of careful study and consultation, the Peel Watershed Land Use Planning Commission recommended protecting 80% of this extraordinary wilderness with the remaining 20% open to carefully controlled development. The Yukon Government’s announcement on January 21, 2014, threw out the Peel Watershed Land Use Planning Commission’s Final Recommended Plan and instead implemented the government’s own unilateral plan for the region. This new plan resulted in 71% of the region being opened up for mineral and oil and gas staking.
Expanded mining exploration and development will require the building of roads, bridges and possibly railroads in this wilderness. The development of one deposit could open the region to many others, as transportation opportunities lower the cost of extracting lead-zinc, uranium, copper, nickel and coal believed to be buried in the region. Transportation routes will carve up the landscape, interfere with animal migration and irrevocably tame this great wilderness.
CPAWS Yukon, along with the First Nation of Na Cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, and the Yukon Conservation Society, is taking legal action against the Yukon Government to force the implementation of a Land Use Plan that would protect 54,000 square kilometers of wilderness in northern Yukon’s Peel River Watershed, against mining and other industrial development.
To learn more about Peel Watershed protection efforts, please visit protectpeel.ca.
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