FAQs: Peel Watershed Legal Case
Legal History and FAQs
Q. Who are the parties on the Peel Watershed legal case?
The appellants on the case are the First Nation of Na Cho Nyäk Dän, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, CPAWS Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society.
Q. What does it mean for a case to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada?
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to hear our case means that it is of national significance. Very few cases proposed to the Supreme Court of Canada are actually heard (one in ten). The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision will require a landmark interpretation of the First Nation Final Agreements and could set a precedent for land use planning across the entire country.
Q. When will the Supreme Court of Canada announce its ruling?
It could take up to one year for the Supreme Court to announce its decision. The average time is about 6 months.
Q. Are there any other parties intervening in support of your case?
The Gwich’in Tribal Council and Council of Yukon First Nations will both be intervening in support of our case.
Q. What is the current ruling on the case?
The 2015 Yukon Court of Appeal ruling upheld the Yukon Supreme Court judgment that the Government of Yukon failed to honour its constitutional obligations under the First Nation Final Agreements with regards to the land-use planning process. But on the matter of the remedy, it differed with the previous ruling, instead sending the consultation back to an earlier stage in 2010, where it found that the government did not clearly reveal its extensive modifications to the commission’s plan. This ruling effectively offers the government a do-over and leaves the door open to widespread development in the Peel.
Q. Why are you appealing the 2015 ruling of the Yukon Court of Appeal?
The current judgment from the Yukon Court of Appeal does not respect the integrity of the Final Agreements, and we are arguing that it should not stand. It is an err in law because it grants the government a do-over on its misconduct and allows the government to reject outright the outcome of a democratic land-use planning process in which First Nations, the public and other stakeholders all participated in good faith.
Q. What are you arguing to the Supreme Court of Canada?
We are arguing that the original ruling of Justice Ron Veale of the Yukon Supreme Court should be restored because it upholds the integrity and the spirit of the First Nation Final Agreements. This ruling would send the planning process back to the final stage of consultation where the Final Recommended Plan was proposed. All steps up until this final stage would remain unchanged. In effect, the ruling would prevent the government from making significant modifications to road access and development in the commission’s plan and it would ensure the protection of 80% of the Peel.
Q: Where can I find a copy of the legal documents?
This Dropbox link contains resources including all the legal documents for the Yukon Supreme Court, Yukon Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court of Canada.
FAQs about the new Government of Yukon
Q. What has the new Yukon Liberal Government committed to regarding the Peel Watershed?
The government of Sandy Silver was elected on a clear promise to accept the Final Recommended Plan of the original Peel Watershed Planning Commission. During the campaign, the Yukon Liberals said they would:
“[accept] the final report of the original Peel Watershed Planning Commission.”
In the mandate letters to his new ministers, Premier Silver directed the Ministers of Environment, Justice and Energy, Mines and Resources to:
“[collaborate] with First Nations on steps towards accepting the final report of the original Peel Watershed Planning Commission pending the outcome of the Supreme Court of Canada decision.”
The promise to implement the Final Recommended Plan has been reiterated online and in interviews. We will be working hard to hold the government to its promise.
Q. Why does the case need to go to the Supreme Court of Canada if the new government wants to protect the Peel?
It is our expectation the government will follow through with its commitments once the land-use planning process resumes, but until anything is done, these are just promises. And before any decisions on the Peel are made, we all need direction from the Supreme Court on where to re-start land-use planning.
The Supreme Court’s ruling will have impacts beyond the Peel and set a precedent for all future land-use planning in the territory. From a conservation perspective, land-use planning is essential for protecting important ecological areas in the Yukon and we need to have confidence that current and future governments will respect this process.
What was the difference between the Final Recommended Plan from the Peel Watershed Planning Commission and the previous Yukon Government’s Plan?
The Final Recommended Plan from the Peel Watershed Planning Commission was the culmination of seven years of democratic consultation, with input from governments, industry, other stakeholders and the public. It provides for 55% permanent protection and 25% interim protection of the Peel Watershed (where roads and mining would not be permitted), with the remaining 20% available to development.
The plan adopted by the Yukon Government was developed behind closed doors, without input from the First Nations or the public, and provided for at most 29% protection, with over 71% of the watershed open to development.
Can’t we have both development and protection in the Peel?
The Final Recommended Plan was a compromise and allows for 20% of the region to be open to mining and development. We feel that this is the upper limit of development that can happen in the Peel without severely jeopardizing the ecological integrity of the region, and it was also a compromise for the First Nations, who originally wanted 100% protection. The Peel is a truly special region and one of the few remaining intact wilderness areas in North America. Once development happens, the effects on the environment cannot be undone. Part of the rationale for protection is leaving choices for future generations.
Would surface access (roads) really affect the Peel?
Yes. For the wildlife that depend on the Peel, roads fragment their habitat and make natural behaviour and survival more difficult. Roads drastically transform the wilderness and are often a gateway to more and more development, resource extraction, and land disturbance. There are endless examples from across Canada and the world of population decline being linked to habitat loss caused by roads.
What is the connection to climate change?
With the North warming up faster than almost anywhere else on Earth, the Peel could be a refuge for species threatened by climate change. As a diverse and intact ecosystem, it could provide conditions that would allow wildlife and biodiversity to adapt to the effects of climate change by moving south to north. This is why the Peel is the northern anchor of the Yellowstone-to-Yukon initiative. Natural landscapes also act as carbon sinks, storing CO2 in trees, soil and permafrost. In short, we need nature to reduce emissions and buffer the impacts of climate change.
But doesn’t the Yukon need more mining to keep the economy strong and provide people with good paying jobs?
Mining is an important part of the Yukon economy, and there are ways that it can be done responsibly, but not all areas of the Yukon should be open to mining, particularly where there are significant ecological and cultural values that would be damaged. The Yukon also has untapped potential in areas of wilderness tourism, and the Peel could be an example of how local communities can benefit from more sustainable and conservation-based economic development.
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