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Yukon Supreme Court hearing on Peel watershed begins

Thomas R. Berger, O.C., Q.C. will argue a landmark constitutional case against the Government of Yukon on behalf of two Yukon First Nations and two environmental organizations in Yukon Supreme Court in Whitehorse, July 7-11, 2014.

Berger and his clients, the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon Chapter (CPAWS Yukon) and the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS), launched legal action January 27, 2014, to force the Government of Yukon to implement a Land Use Plan that would protect 54,000 square kilometres of wilderness in northern Yukon’s Peel River Watershed from mining and other industrial development. 

This plan was produced by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission after seven years of research and consultation, following a constitutionally mandated process under Yukon land claims agreements.  It recommends permanent protection of 55 per cent and interim protection for an additional 25 per cent, of the Peel watershed. Although the Commission’s plan is endorsed by the affected First Nations and has widespread public support, on January 21, 2014 the Government of Yukon adopted its own plan for the region, which opens up over 70 percent of the watershed to roads and industrial development.

“Yukon Government’s unilateral decision to accept their own plan for the Peel undermines our Final Agreements,” says Nacho Nyak Dun Chief Ed Champion. “Government’s decision is also creating uncertainty for resource companies who want to do business in the Yukon, and it makes meaningful business relations between First Nations and resource companies difficult.”

“The fresh water that the seven rivers of the Peel Watershed provide is by far the most valuable resource within the Peel,” says Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Eddie Taylor.  “Although we wanted 100% protected, we are willing to compromise and accept the Peel Commission’s Final Recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan.  We will stand up for our rights in court - the Peel Watershed is sacred to us as it was to our ancestors, and we want it to be around for our grandchildren.”

More than 50 elders from Mayo, Dawson and Mackenzie Delta communities are expected to join First Nation leadership to witness the historic proceedings.

“We are excited by the tremendous public support there is for our case,” says CPAWS Yukon Executive Director Gill Cracknell. “The importance of protecting one of North America’s last remaining large-scale wilderness watersheds has united people across the Yukon, Northwest Territories and beyond. To honour the many people who have expressed an interest in being involved during the trial week, a number of events have been organized in Whitehorse and the communities, as well as on social media.”

“There is no social license for resource development in the parts of the watershed that the Peel Commission has recommended for protection,” says YCS Peel Watershed Coordinator Karen Baltgailis. “We encourage mining companies with claims in those parts of the Peel to show their good will by giving up their contentious claims and operating in other parts of the Yukon where they are welcome.”

Details about the trial, events, the Peel Protection campaign, the plaintiff’s and defendant’s Outline of Argument and the plaintiff’s statement of claim can be viewed at: http://www.protectpeel.ca/protect_peel_campaign.html

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A daily Peel Trial Blog has also been established that will feature a daily audio podcast summarizing the day’s events inside and outside the courtroom. Follow or join the conversation on Facebook, @CPAWSYukon,  #ProtectPeel

Events planned for the week of the trial include:
• July 7th:  12:30 – 1 p.m. a Silent Vigil for the Peel on the front steps of the Law Courts (2134 Second Ave., Whitehorse)
• July 10th: 7:00 p.m. Voices of the Peel – Together Today for our Children Tomorrow at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (1171 First Ave, Whitehorse): Elders and youth tell their stories, images, music and dancing.
• July 7 – 11th: noon – 1:00 p.m. Prayer Circle for the Peel at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre (1131 Front Street, Dawson City).


About the Peel River Watershed

Located at the northern end of the Rocky and Mackenzie Mountain Chain, the Peel River Watershed is a spectacularly rugged region defined by the Peel, Ogilvie, Blackstone, Hart, Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume rivers. One of Canada's most striking and pristine mountain river watersheds, the Peel is the heart of a great mountain ecosystem with a long cultural history, free-ranging wildlife and a rugged northern beauty. Encompassing over 67,500 square kilometres, the Peel Watershed dwarfs more famous landscapes, such as Banff and Yellowstone national parks – in size, unspoiled splendor and ecological integrity.

The Peel Watershed is one of North America's largest intact ecosystems – a region of mountains, deep canyons, plateaus, wetlands and rolling hills laced by rivers. The watershed is the northern anchor of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, a broad-based international project to protect ecosystem connections for wildlife.


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CPAWS Yukon Chapter
506 Steele St. 
Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 2C9
(867) 393-8080

Yukon Conservation Society
302 Hawkins Street
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 1X6
(867) 668-5678