The Fight for the Peel Watershed Continues
On August 20 and 21, 2015 the Peel court case will be heard at the Yukon Court of Appeal in Whitehorse. At this hearing, the Yukon Government will argue 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, will defend against this appeal and argue that Justice Veale’s ruling be upheld.
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.
You can find a summary of the Yukon Supreme Court Judge's decision here. And the full text of the Yukon Supreme Court Judge's decision can be found here.