Yukon News

First Nations announce Peel lawsuit

Jacqueline Ronson Friday January 24, 2014

Ian Stewart/Yukon News


Environment policy director Dan Paleczny explains the Yukon government's park designations for several Peel watershed rivers during a technical briefing on Thursday.

First Nations will sue the Yukon government over its handling of the Peel plan.

Thomas Berger, a famed expert in Canadian aboriginal law, will lead the suit, the First Nations announced Friday.

Berger will join First Nation chiefs Ed Champion and Eddie Taylor for an announcement Monday in Vancouver.

The event coincides with the Mineral Exploration Roundup conference, where the Yukon government will be trumpeting the territory’s mining potential to companies from around the world.

First Nations are in good company in their opposition to the plan released by the government this week.

Miners and conservationists have found a rare moment of agreement in their shared displeasure over the new plan.

Even the wilderness tourism operators, for whom the government invented a new kind of park, are not pleased.

The purpose of land-use planning is to give all users certainty about what sorts of activities will and will not be allowed in an area.

The Peel planning commission’s recommended plan, supported by affected First Nations, conservationists and tourism industry groups, would have banned new staking and road building in 80 per cent of the region.

But the Yukon government, with its new Peel plan unveiled this week, has chosen instead to shy away from hard rules.

While no new staking is allowed in the 29 per cent covered by protected areas, mining is potentially allowed across the watershed, if developers can meet certain standards for preserving the region’s wilderness character.

That uncertainty about what, exactly, will be allowed has both miners and environmentalists worried.


The devil is in the details’

“The devil is in the details of this document,” said Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of mines. “It’s very complex.”

The chamber is happy to see that the government modified the recommended plan in favour of more development, he said.

But miners are worried about all the extra layers of protection that this new document adds for prospectors across much of the watershed, he said.

“When you combine all that, all the different varying layers of permitting and regulations, it becomes extremely complex and uneconomic for a number of projects.”

Access is a big issue, said Hartland.

He mentioned special rules that will require seasonal roads where possible, ban road building for exploration work and require annual cleanups as examples.

And when it comes to flying in, there will be special rules about flying over sheep habitat during spring lambing season and flying over rivers during summer tourist season, he said.

It’s worth noting that both of those time-frames overlap with Yukon’s relatively short exploration season.

“From our perspective it’s a very high level of protection.”

Conservation groups are not so sure.


‘No real protection’

“There’s no real protection at all in the Yukon government’s plan,” said Karen Baltgailis, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society.

“I have no faith in this business of trying to co-ordinate air flights so that tourism isn’t disturbed, and things like that. It is so loosey-goosey. It just would not be effective.”

Roads are not banned anywhere in the watershed.

In most of the region, roads would only be allowed for mine development, not exploration. They would have to be closed to the public, and temporary. That means that after the mine is closed, the road must be reclaimed by nature.

But those rules don’t give Baltgailis any comfort, she said.

“There’s really no such thing as a temporary all-season road.”

Once a road is built, it makes it cheaper for neighbouring companies to go in and develop their claims, she said.

“The chances of an all-season road developed for one mine ever getting shut down are really remote.”


Mines and wilderness incompatible?

The biggest area of contention for both miners and conservationists are the government’s new Restricted Use Wilderness Areas.

The government says that these areas will retain their wilderness character even as some development is allowed.

This land-use category covers 44 per cent of the watershed. It’s painted light green on Yukon government’s maps and fills the spaces between the protected river corridors.

New mineral staking is allowed, but oil and gas exploration is not.

Roads can be built, but only under strict conditions.

The surface disturbance, or development footprint, is limited to 0.2 per cent of the total area.

The government says this means that 99.8 per cent of these areas will stay pristine.

But those numbers are not firm limits.

“The recommended indicator levels are not intended to be an absolute cap on activities,” according to the plan document.

Conservationists say you can do a lot of damage with 0.2 per cent of the land.

A 2008 report prepared by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission estimates that 0.1 per cent of the watershed has already been disturbed by human activity, although about 20 per cent of that has likely already been reclaimed by nature.

Reclamation is defined as when trees and shrubs reach 1.5 metres in height, or the same height as surrounding vegetation.

There are 8,996 active quartz and mica claims in the watershed.

“The Peel region has been the site of numerous major exploration programs and has remained one of the world’s premier pristine areas,” said Hartland. “Which, we believe, is a testament to the way in which modern mineral exploration practices respect the environment.”


A megamine for the Peel?

No one is rushing to develop the Peel soon. There are no late-stage exploration projects in the region.

Mineral prices and exploration spending are down.

But if conditions were to change, how much development would Yukon’s Peel plan allow?

The allowable surface disturbance in the watershed ranges from 0.2 per cent in low-development areas to one per cent in high-development areas.

Ironically, the land management block that would support the most total surface disturbance under the government’s plan is a Restricted Use Wilderness Area.

At 0.2 per cent of the total area, the land management unit comprising the Wind and Bonnet Plume watersheds would support a maximum surface disturbance of 32 square kilometres.

Under the government’s plan, that’s the only area that would support a project comparable to the Faro mine, which has a footprint of 25 square kilometres, or the proposed Casino mine, at 23.5 square kilometres.

These maximum footprint rules would likely rule out most major mine development projects, which have to be big enough to pay for the infrastructure needed to get to the mine in addition to that needed for the mine itself.

The plan in all likelihood rules out development of the giant Crest iron ore deposit, hailed by Premier Darrell Pasloski in his most recent budget speech as a potential driver of Yukon’s future economy. Just 15 per cent of the estimated deposit would yield 1.68 billion tonnes of ore, worth $139.7 billion, he said.

The deposit is located in a Restricted Use Wilderness Area with a footprint threshold of about 14 square kilometres, a little more than half a Faro mine.

Of course, the question may be irrelevant, since that site is nowhere near development, and the plan is up for review in 10 years or when the parties agree to review it.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

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John Steins wrote:
11:56am Friday February 7, 2014

Yukoners chose adversarial style party politics over the previous consensus model of governance. So we shouldn’t be surprised by any “conquer and divide” strategies.

bunjee girl wrote:
9:20am Friday February 7, 2014

Hey guys….these comments are getting us nowhere. Show some respect.

This is exactly what YG wants to see on the Peel - divide, alienate and conquer. There’s so much of this “if you’re not for me you’re against me” rhetoric in the Yukon that it truly worries me.

north of 60 wrote:
4:29pm Thursday February 6, 2014

@Foster Shut it.

B. Foster wrote:
3:26pm Thursday February 6, 2014


Well, hello pot.

I dig what you say about the peel and about mining, just think it’s funny that it’s 180 degrees out of character when reading your comments on fracking is all. It’s like two different people posting. You sure someone else isn’t using your alias?

north of 60 wrote:
2:04pm Thursday February 6, 2014

Argumentum ad Hominem (abusive and circumstantial): the fallacy of attacking the character or circumstances of an individual who is advancing a statement or an argument instead of trying to disprove the truth of the statement or the soundness of the argument. Often the argument is characterized simply as a personal attack.

The irony of ad Hominem arguments is how they always do more to erode the credibility of the person using them, rather than the person they’re attacking.

Greg Hakonson wrote:
1:05pm Thursday February 6, 2014

Since the Yukon Government is now choosing to ignore the Peel land use plan that they commission and that had input from all Yukoners in favour of their own that has no input and is going to end up in the courts at huge expense, who should be liable for the costs? I don’t think it should be the tax payers as it is not our land use plan causing the court action.  I think the authors of the land use plan that is causing the court action should be liable for the cost.

B. Foster wrote:
10:40am Thursday February 6, 2014


Interesting that you see to defend the Peel and can speak against the greed of mining but but your skirt can’t fly up fast enough when it comes to oil, gas and fracking.

When you lump it all together, as it should be….all lumped together, mining is mining whether it is for oil or for gold. It makes little difference what you’re mining for. What makes the difference is knowing / admitting who is making off with the global commons and who is aiding and abetting the theft. Who is displacing those that live sustainably and gagging those that know you can’t have an infinite growth with finite means to do so.

To defend oil and gas while speaking out against mining is inherently hypocritical. They are one and the same.

north of 60 wrote:
2:54pm Thursday January 30, 2014

Resource development already has access to most of the Yukon. Restricting 80% of the Peel will not curtail economic development. Mining has to stop beeing greedy and selfish, they can’t have all the Yukon to exploit.

BnR wrote:
8:13pm Wednesday January 29, 2014

Bruce, your comment re. the “anti-progress movement strikes again”
Please elaborate on how this is at all related to anti-progress?  None of the FNs involved have taken the gov to court re. mine/mineral issues before.  Indeed, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in have partnered with mining companies, witness the Brewery creek development.  So to simply say that a group or individual is anti progress or anti mining because they don’t support the new land use plan is simply stupid and ill-informed.  I don’t see any of groups protesting the Peel coming out against Casino, so your hypothesis falls flat on its face.

Bruce wrote:
9:41am Wednesday January 29, 2014

I understand culture. I am the nucleus.

John Steins wrote:
4:11pm Tuesday January 28, 2014

Bruce whatever your name is; why such a narrow view of “progress”? Why is it so often defined as owning a whole bunch of bright and shiny things at the expense of the environment? I mean really… is your world view really that simplistic?

Bruce wrote:
12:32pm Tuesday January 28, 2014

“So to recap: two FN’s and two non-profit groups are going to unite in an attempt to sue the Yukon government. Meanwhile the federal government funds all five entities and will be liable for legal costs regardless of the result in court under the “loser pays”  system. Aroisgevorfene gelt.”

Yes. In many ways Canadian Aboriginal Policy is actually a huge indirect subsidy to the Canadian legal community.

Oh well. The #antiprogress movement strikes again.

Binyamin Kogan wrote:
7:39pm Monday January 27, 2014

So to recap: two FN’s and two non-profit groups are going to unite in an attempt to sue the Yukon government. Meanwhile the federal government funds all five entities and will be liable for legal costs regardless of the result in court under the “loser pays”  system. Aroisgevorfene gelt

Sally Wright wrote:
2:52pm Monday January 27, 2014

The Yukon Party is clearly floundering under the legacy and ideology that was started by Denis Fentie and whoever paid for his Premiership. It is pretty clear, from what has been happening over the past 10 years in the Yukon, that it is the oil and gas industry making a “play” for the last unexploited oil and gas fields on the continent.
Chevron has a stake in the Peel through it’s Crest Iron Ore project. The iron ore is too far from the market to be profitable, but the gas underneath, just needs to be fracked and piped out to the pipeline right-of-way along the Dempster Highway that is described in the new Peel plan.
Oil has bought our Federal government and our Territorial government is merely a puppet. What Stephen Harper and his associates haven’t realised is, that they are breaking the law when not following the constitutionally supported Umbrella Final Agreement.
I look forward to hearing the arguments on both sides of this lawsuit. It is about time Canadians were able to question our government on the wisdom their ideology. The ideology that I’m referring to is neoliberalism.
It is named after the unregulated liberal economics of the days of the robber barons that led us eventually to the Great Depression. It is the false religious-like belief that if governments step aside and give the wealthy, corporations and financiers free reign, all will benefit.
Deregulation, privatization, corporate tax cuts, low taxes on the rich, free trade agreements, P3s, high unemployment, job outsourcing, austerity policies and financial speculation are just some of the ways this false economic religion is practiced.
It has led to radical inequality and environmental devastation in Canada, US and Europe.
Does the definition of neoliberalism resonate?
A proportional representation electoral system will greatly improve our democracy. Yes, there would be more minority governments, but our MP’s will have to learn the art of compromise. To say that 30% of the vote has 100% of the power, is simply not fair.
I see this lawsuit as the 70% fighting for an opportunity to be heard, instead of forcing us in front of the bulldozers, and out on the streets burning tires to be heard.

Atom wrote:
10:37am Monday January 27, 2014

No matter what arguments are made re transfer payment $ origins, the fact remains the Yukon will continue to receive federal $‘s no matter what it does or doesn’t produce….it’s guaranteed fed funding, it’s called sovereignty…..arguing Yukon $‘s comes from mines specifically in other parts of the country is as asinine as thanking liquor sales for addiction treatment programs….it’s obvious engineers should be required to take some arts courses to compliment their degree.
Folks who want whole scale development of the Yukon have no sense of what the Yukon can be.

bunjee girl wrote:
9:52am Monday January 27, 2014

@WorkingEngineer - Lazy, lazy argument. You genuinely think we don’t know where our resources come from?

Even without the Peel almost 80% of the Yukon is open for staking and mining - an area larger than many countries. Isn’t that enough? Economic forecasts have indicated that protecting the Peel will have limited implications for the extraction industries and most companies have already written off their interests due to the sheer costs and complexity of working in that location.

Don’t really see the relevance of your Haber-Bosch argument - but guess you know best…....

yukoner wrote:
9:33am Monday January 27, 2014

sounds like a bunch of American ambulance chasers lawsuit this lawsuit that really lets waste more money why not wait and really see where this goes and no I don’t need to here if we wait it will be too late the mining industry is very slow moving it won’t be to late is we just sit back and see what happens god people the government will change hands three times before anything is done. lets not waste money on lawyers.

WorkingEngineer wrote:
1:28am Monday January 27, 2014

Interesting comments. Completely devoid of reality and economic sense. Where do you think the Yukon gets its money from? Mines and transfer payments derived from Industry elsewhere. My suggestion to everyone against mining in the Yukon is to kindly discard all electronic products, anything with any metal or plastic components or derivatives and anything not grown organically. By the way without the Haber-Bosch process,  1/3 of the earth’s population would starve. But it’s an industrial process like mining and isn’t organic so we can’t mustn’t use it. Good luck living in your hand-woven tents.

north of 60 wrote:
5:26pm Sunday January 26, 2014

Those who want to see the Yukon open for resource extraction already have most of the territory available, even without 80% of the Peel.  If you can’t make successful economic development with the rest of the Yukon then you’ve got a faulty business model.

You’ve got plenty of the Yukon for your interests, you can’t have it all.

Stop being so damn selfish and greedy.  Show some respect for others and responsibility for your actions. 

There are many things more important than money.  Isn’t that why we live here?

Joanne Bell wrote:
2:25pm Sunday January 26, 2014

Having spent much of my adult life living along one of the Peel Watershed rivers, (up to eight months out of the year) I am angry, shocked and saddened that our government has displayed such ignorance and disregard for the process and people who have spoken over the last years. This wilderness is an intact ecosystem; its denizens are not even particularly well known to us. Perhaps their undisturbed presence and mystery has value not just for humans, but for them.

Derp McGurk wrote:
12:00pm Sunday January 26, 2014

Point #1:  what a gong show the YP is. The Monty Python comment sums it up perfectly.  Lol.

Point #2:  How many more years are we going to watch the combined ignorance of the Liberal and NDP parties continue before they both realize that they need put their inflated egos aside and join to form one party??  Until then get used to conservative governance (and the hilarious incompetence that comes with it).

Born in Yukon wrote:
11:12am Sunday January 26, 2014

Ohhh whooa the end of the world, when a government tries to balance all the interests of yukoners how come the wannabes cry foul ? Go back to your home turf.

bunjee girl wrote:
8:14pm Saturday January 25, 2014

“This government deserves a class action lawsuit by all participant in the delivery of the final proposed Peel plan.”

And that includes us disrespected and ignored Yukoners. Has that been done anywhere I wonder? Likely not, but it’s a wonderful thought.

The line needs to be drawn somewhere. The line needs to be drawn here.

north of 60 wrote:
7:35pm Saturday January 25, 2014

Canadian majority governments at all levels are time limited dictatorships.  That’s the result of disproportionate representation in a winner-takes-all system.

The fact that the YP ignored experts and public opinion is bad, however the fact that they could do that with impunity is much worse.

If we want democracy in the Yukon, we will have to change the electoral process.

Faroite wrote:
12:00pm Saturday January 25, 2014

This government deserves a class action lawsuit by all participant in the delivery of the final proposed Peel plan.

Dearest Bobbi wrote:
2:24am Saturday January 25, 2014

Just ask who the Ed of the chamber worked for during the last sitting of the Yukon legislature and once you know you’ll know all you need to put his comments in context.

TeeDoo wrote:
10:00pm Friday January 24, 2014

It all sums up to one thing. The Yukon Party is 100% Incompetent in absolutely everything they do. They is no deeper political analysis.

I feel bad for the Party that has to come in and clean up the mess after they get voted out.

Patrick wrote:
6:19pm Friday January 24, 2014

Thank you to all those standing up to protect the environment. We need to protect it as much as possible as it is the only environment we will ever be responsible for.

kate moylan wrote:
6:04pm Friday January 24, 2014

Another lawsuit that the public pays for due to bad decision making on the part of government.

John Steins wrote:
5:22pm Friday January 24, 2014

Why does our government represent only the interests of one constituency? I fail to see the balance of good governance by tossing out the original Peel Committee recommendation and replacing it with a legs wide open policy. Clearly, prostitution is the business model to which this government is attracted.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde “This Yukon Party Government knows the price of everything but knows the value of nothing”.

Bruce wrote:
5:12pm Friday January 24, 2014

Ahhhh yes of course the lawyer vermin smell blood.

How terrible of you to get these foolish peoples’ hopes up for your own personal gain. Shame on you.

Amateur night wrote:
5:03pm Friday January 24, 2014

The Peel Plan from the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot straight ... unbelievable. I can only imagine a YP strategy session would sound more like a Monty Python skit ... “I’m here for an argument, no you’re not, yes I am ... ” If it wasn’t so sad it would almost be funny.

bobby bitman wrote:
4:53pm Friday January 24, 2014

Take note that the Chamber of Mines complains about the following:  seasonal roads where possible, no road building for exploration, annual cleanups of their mining messes, rules about flying over sheep habitat during lambing season and rules about flying over rivers during summer tourist season.

Either they are self-centered entitled slobs who do not care about the lambs, the tourism industry or leaving messes behind at the end of the season; and who think they and they alone have the right to build roads wherever they want even just to find out if there is anything out there worth staking and developing - either they truly feel this way or else they are making pained noises in hopes that the rest of us will fall for it and believe that they are ‘taking a big hit here too’.

Whichever is the case, it does not shed a positive light on the mentality of the Chamber of Mines who have just been handed the entire ecosystem of the Peel with a couple more flimsy rules to follow.

I am not buying their little broken wing dance.

Kennedy The Elder wrote:
4:05pm Friday January 24, 2014

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Darkness and ignorance, please meet warrior of light and reason; the cure to the societal cancer that is trying to take root in the YT; the only person in this debacle who has earned the title “Honourable” in this fight, and to make his worth clear, I introduce him as: His Excellency the Right Honourable Thomas R. Berger. God Speed Sir.

Pax et bonum.

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