Yukon News

Yukon could see legal trouble over Peel

Jacqueline Ronson Friday August 23, 2013

Ian Stewart/Yukon News

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Hikers rest at Mount MacDonald, near the Snake River in the Peel watershed. Development of the area hinges on negotiations between the Yukon government and four affected First Nations.

Numbers exposed by the News this week show that many Yukoners feel that the government is disrespecting agreements with First Nations regarding the Peel watershed land use plan.

The numbers come from drafts of the What We Heard document prepared by a consultant on the most recent round of public consultations on the Peel.

They were deleted from the report released to the public.

Either 7,105 or 7,958 responses urged the government to respect the Umbrella Final Agreement, depending on which draft of the numbers you look at.

That agreement is a treaty between the government and the 11 Yukon First Nations with signed land claims. It lays out the process for developing and implementing land use plans across the territory.

Critics of the government say that, by coming up with its own set of plans for the Peel after the work of the planning commission was complete, the government has run afoul of the treaty.

But the government insists it has met every obligation to First Nations under the agreement.

Environment Minister Currie Dixon recently told the News that the government has followed the Umbrella Final Agreement “to a tee.”

And, he may be right.

The Umbrella Final Agreement only requires that the government consult First Nations and affected communities before approving, rejecting or modifying the final plan recommended by the commission.

But following the agreement in a literal way won’t cut it, and the Yukon government should know better, said lawyer Bill Gallagher, an expert on resource battles with First Nations in Canada.

Ian Stewart/Yukon News

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Mount Corp on the Snake River, home of the 18-billion-tonne Crest iron ore deposit. Whether it is developed, or not, depends on the Peel planning negotiations between Yukon and four First Nations.

He pointed to the 2010 Supreme Court of Canada decision involving a land dispute between Yukon and the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation.

In the decision, the judge clearly spells out that the Yukon government must follow agreements with First Nations, but it must also meet common law obligations to consult and accommodate above and beyond what is spelled out in treaties.

And, it must do so in the spirit of co-operation and building relationships with First Nations.

“The treaty will not accomplish its purpose if it is interpreted by territorial officials in an ungenerous manner or as if it were an everyday commercial contract,” wrote Justice Ian Binnie. “The treaty is as much about building relationships as it is about the settlement of ancient grievances. The future is more important than the past. A canoeist who hopes to make progress faces forwards, not backwards.”

The government’s argument that their actions are appropriate because they have followed agreements word-for-word won’t stand up in court, said Gallagher.

“The Yukon has taken a very clinical approach in all of these court cases, where they tend to litigate stuff right on the line, and they don’t win it.”

The Umbrella Final Agreement isn’t the only relevant agreement to the government’s recent actions on the Peel.

In January 2011, Yukon and the four First Nations involved with the Peel plan signed a letter of understanding outlining how the parties would approve a plan in a timely way.

The letter indicates that the Yukon and First Nations would co-operatively consult the public on the final recommended plan.

Instead, the government designed and administered the public consultation without input from the First Nations.

In this case, the government has arguably run afoul of not only the co-operative spirit but also the literal word of the agreement.

The First Nations say they are ready for a legal fight over the Peel, if it comes to that.

“We’ve still got our guns loaded and ready to go,” said Simon Mervyn after the government revealed its modified plans for the Peel. Mervyn was chief of the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun and spokesman for the four affected First Nations at the time.

In the meantime, we wait.

The final round of consultation with First Nations is ongoing, despite a March 25, 2013 deadline set by the government.

There is no word on how those talks are progressing.

In a recent interview, Environment Minister Currie Dixon said he could not comment on how the discussions or going, or say when they might wrap up.

The affected First Nations did not respond to interview requests by press time.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

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9 Comments

Sam Holloways wrote:
12:28pm Tuesday September 3, 2013

We can all see Niagara Falls. If you turn away from the casinos and tacky tourist attractions and position yourself alongside the railing it’s very beautiful and magnificent. The lights at night add a nice touch. It’s worth a visit, and it’s very accessible!

Most people will never see the Himalayas or climb Everest. Actually, most people have little interest in climbing it and they may or may not understand the people who do.

The Peel is not that expensive to get to if you really want to see the area. It’s most attractive to people who are into advanced canoeing and who have the time, interest and money set aside for a wilderness trip. We often hear about the outfitters who charge their clients 10’s of thousands of dollars to hunt there. Please remember that if managed properly, wildlife is a renewable resource.

I have worked in the mining industry, have staked claims and flown in helicopters and float planes and seen many Yukon mountains, rivers and lakes. They are beautiful and very special.  In the old days areas were protected because they were remote. With China and the world wanting minerals, these remote areas have caught the attention of multinational companies- they are on their radar- the minerals have value and they will be off to the US, China and the world if there is a road, power and the right combination of metal prices and development costs.

Many people I know are lucky enough to have canoed within the Peel drainage. I hear them describe it and have seen the photos. There are mountains everywhere and rivers run through it. It’s one of the last remaining wilderness areas on our planet. We need to protect this area and not exploit it like we have done all over the world. It’s special, it’s ours, and it does not belong to the Yukon Party or mining companies. Let’s protect it forever so the Peel has unspoiled mountains everywhere and pristine rivers that run through it.

Vincent wrote:
8:15pm Friday August 30, 2013

What does this have to do with the woman who ran over the cat? I would start asking questions as these are clearly linked and so is spooning.

Klondike Garlic wrote:
7:47pm Friday August 30, 2013

Just keep the miners out so they don’t scare the big game away from outfitters and their client’s goal of killing stuff.

Max Mack wrote:
8:39pm Thursday August 29, 2013

Still waiting for my retort to “You think you know” to show up in these forums. I guess Yukon News moderators couldn’t stomach me taking shots at their pal.

I guess “free speech” is a one-way street.

bobby bitman wrote:
6:59pm Monday August 26, 2013

“Environment Minister Currie Dixon recently told the News that the government has followed the Umbrella Final Agreement “to a tee.”

Currie Dixon is a piece of work.  I am surprised he didn’t say it was ‘hilarious’ that the First Nations are opposed to this.  He finds the Peel issue very entertaining!

Now the game is to play ‘letter of the law’ instead of spirit of the law, and the lawyer quoted in this article is correct that in all likelihood, a judge will look to the spirit of the law.  Something the Yukon Party could not care less about.

You think you know wrote:
10:47am Monday August 26, 2013

@MaxMack
Yes, FN would like 100% protection but they are compromising by suggesting only 80% protection. That 20% will still vastly compromise the landscape and all living species in the region and beyond. They aren’t looking out for ALL Yukoners, obviously, since you aren’t part of this scope of people wanting it protected. But they do look out for themselves and their traditional land and values, along with the plethora of other Yukoners desperate to make sure this territory remains unscathed by the greed and claw of developers - namely those from OUTSIDE THE FRICKING COUNTRY.
Yes, this is a biased opinion, but so is yours. We all have them. Ms. Ronson just happens to be a journalist who is able to write and publish hers on a fuller scale than you.
Too bad for you. We need strong voices in this argument. You, being on the opposing side, only see the value of a growing economy, whereas all those in favour of protection recognize the bigger picture of needing to save this land from the greed and misdirection of priorities that seem to have ransacked the entire world.

Max Mack wrote:
8:48pm Sunday August 25, 2013

This story is completely disingenous. Government of Yukon has been involved in consultation with the affected First Nations. The journo who wrote this completely biased piece of crap failed to mention that the First Nations want 100% protection—no development of any kind.  Since when does consultation mean that First Nations have veto power? And about the “7,105 or 7,958” responses that allegedly called for the Government to “respect” the UFA—what exactly does that mean? How has the Government NOT respected the UFA. Does “respect” mean that First Nations make the rules? Since when do First Nations look out for the interests of ALL Yukoners? And don’t get me going on the illegitimacy of using “big” numbers to try to silence any disagreement with the “protect the peel at all costs” crowd . . .

Faroite wrote:
11:01pm Friday August 23, 2013

Never been there, don’t know where it is
I only know my heart
It is saddened.

Stan Winter wrote:
6:10pm Friday August 23, 2013

“In January 2011, Yukon and the four First Nations involved with the Peel plan signed a letter of understanding outlining how the parties would approve a plan in a timely way.

The letter indicates that the Yukon and First Nations would co-operatively consult the public on the final recommended plan.

Instead, the government designed and administered the public consultation without input from the First Nations.

In this case, the government has arguably run afoul of not only the co-operative spirit but also the literal word of the agreement.

The First Nations say they are ready for a legal fight over the Peel, if it comes to that.”

I hardly think there needs to be a legal fight; it would be costly, take forever and just be a waste of everyone’s time.  Maybe the government will back off their if the legislature was disrupted or shut down by protests. This would bring media attention to the territory was well. I have seen the demographics of protestors who want the government to accept the plan and protect the Peel.

What if there were protests in the legislature involving people over 65 years of age one day followed by people 50 to 64years of age the next, with younger people following. Why not shut the legislature down becuase its no longer a democratic institution. The government is not going to send these people to jail, I think they will step back and listen to them. Lets make this happen, lets shut down the legislature when it reopens until a democtatic Peel watershed land use plan process is reinstated.

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