Media Advisory: Landmark Supreme Court decision to be released Friday
Landmark Supreme Court decision on threatened Yukon wilderness and modern treaties to be released Friday
November 27th, 2017
This Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada will release a ruling that will determine the fate of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed, one of the largest intact ecosystems in North America, and the future of land use planning in the territory. A press conference will take place following the release of the ruling.
Who: Chief Roberta Joseph (Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation), Chief Simon Mervyn (First Nation of Na Cho Nyäk Dän), Chief Bruce Charlie (Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation), Christina Macdonald (Yukon Conservation Society) and Chris Rider (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Yukon Chapter)
When: Friday, 1 pm EST on Friday, December 1st.
Where: The Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery’s Charles Lynch Room, Ottawa. Livestream available here. Lawyer Thomas Berger will make a statement at approximately 1:30 pm EST (10:30 am Yukon time) on Facebook Live here (to watch without a Facebook account, choose 'Not Now' when asked to make an account).
About the Ruling: The landmark case is the culmination of a contentious land dispute in which the previous Yukon government derailed the planning process mandated in Yukon’s modern-day treaties, and forced through its own plan to industrialize over 71% of the 68,000 km2 Peel Watershed to the outcry of First Nations and the public. The Supreme Court ruling will require a landmark interpretation of Yukon’s First Nations Final Agreements and could set a precedent for land use planning across the entire country. Renowned Indigenous rights lawyer, Thomas Berger, represented the appellants —Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation, the First Nation of Na Cho Nyäk Dän, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, CPAWS Yukon, and the Yukon Conservation Society — on March 22nd of this year. For more information about the Peel Watershed and the Supreme Court of Canada case visit protectpeel.ca.
The ruling will be posted here on Friday, Dec 1.
For resources including professional photos of the Supreme Court hearing in March 2017, photos, past news stories, press releases, and legal documents, please visit this Dropbox link.
The Peel Watershed is roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland. The watershed is the northern anchor for the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation corridor, providing increasingly crucial habitats to iconic and rare species as climate change and habitat loss threaten North American wildlife.
A seven-year planning process, laid out in the land claims agreements signed between Yukon First Nations and the federal and territorial governments, had produced a Final Recommended Plan to keep 80% of the Peel Watershed off-limits to roads and industry. However, in 2014, the Yukon government rejected this plan in favour of its own plan to open up over 71% of the watershed to roads, mining and drilling. This move derailed the land use planning process that is specified in Yukon First Nation Final Agreements.
This sparked a three-year legal battle between a coalition of affected First Nations and environmental groups, against Yukon government over the future of the Peel Watershed and the integrity of land use planning provisions in the Final Agreements. The case was initially heard by the Supreme Court of Yukon in 2014 and then again by the Court of Appeal of Yukon in 2015. The interpretation of Chapter 11 of the Final Agreements is central to the case. Both Yukon courts found that the Government of Yukon failed to honour its obligations under these agreements.
Where the courts differed was on the remedy for Yukon government’s breach of process. The Supreme Court of Yukon ordered that the land use planning process should be returned to the stage of final consultation with the First Nations and affected communities. The ruling also prevented the Yukon government from introducing new modifications to the Final Recommended Plan. However, the Court of Appeal of Yukon ordered that the process should be sent back to an earlier stage of consultation, which would allow the government to advance entirely new modifications to the Plan and unwind years of progress. The Court of Appeal also ruled the government has the right, at the end of the day, to reject the entire Peel Watershed Final Recommended Plan. This would throw out years of work and, from the perspective of the First Nations and environmental groups, render the whole land use planning process under land claim agreements meaningless.
Renowned Indigenous rights lawyer, Thomas Berger, represented the First Nations and environmental groups at the Supreme Court on March 22 of this year. Berger argued the court set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and restore the Supreme Court of Yukon’s ruling, as it upholds the integrity and the spirit of the Final Agreements.
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