Next up, Ottawa: FAQs on next steps in the Peel legal case

Q: Does the Peel Watershed case still need to go to the Supreme Court of Canada?

Yes, it is essential the Supreme Court of Canada hear the Peel Watershed case because the outcome will have far-reaching impacts on land use planning in the Yukon and even across Canada where modern-day treaties have been negotiated. The Yukon Supreme Court and Court of Appeal have both found that the government’s actions were a violation of its constitutional obligations, but we still need clarity regarding the process and the remedy. In our estimation, the current ruling – which would allow the government a ‘do-over’ – does not respect the Final Agreements and is not in the spirit of reconciliation.

Q. What has the new Yukon Liberal Government committed to regarding the Peel Watershed?

A. During the campaign, the Yukon Liberals were explicit about their support for the Final Recommended Plan. Their platform stated they would:

“[accept] the final report of the original Peel Watershed Planning Commission.”

In the recently released 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.

Q: Can Government of Yukon simply drop the case, now they have committed to implementing the Final Recommended Plan?

While things are now looking favourable for Peel protection, the case is broader than the Peel because it relates to the interpretation of the Final Agreements and the land use planning process. The First Nations and environmental groups are appealing the flawed 2015 Yukon Court of Appeal decision granting the government a do-over despite its blatant disregard for the planning process. To ensure that future Yukon governments honour the agreements that have been signed, the case must be seen through to its completion. It is our understanding that the Court of Appeal’s decision must be defended, if not by the Government of Yukon then by a party appointed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Q: Now that there is a new Government in the Yukon, can they implement the Final Recommended Plan immediately?

It does not appear so. Any adoption of a plan must go through the Peel Watershed land use planning process. The current ruling of the Court of Appeal would send things back to an earlier stage in the consultation, prior to the Final Recommended Plan being produced. We are arguing that the process should be sent back to the final stage of consultation, where the Final Recommended Plan was proposed. It is our understanding that any decision on implementing a plan would need to flow through the land use planning process, and thus would take place after the Supreme Court of Canada has made its ruling.

Q. What is the latest on your preparations for the Supreme Court of Canada hearing?

In November, our lawyer, Thomas R. Berger Q.C., filed our written argument (factum), and the Government of Yukon has until January 20th to file its factum. The Council of Yukon First Nations and the Gwich’in Tribal Council have successfully applied to intervene in support of our case. The Attorney General of Canada will also be intervening in the case as a neutral party.

In the lead-up to the hearing in Ottawa on March 22nd, we will be holding events and raising awareness about the Peel watershed in a variety of ways. Make sure to sign the Peel Pledge and follow Protect the Peel on Facebook to receive our latest updates.

Q: Is there anything I can do to support you as you go to Ottawa?

Yes. We encourage you to write to Premier Sandy Silver and the new Government of Yukon to encourage them to follow through with their commitment to accept the Final Recommended Plan. We will not be stopping our campaign until the Peel is protected. We need you to sign the Peel Pledge, continue raising awareness and help show that in the court of public opinion, Yukoners and Canadians want the Peel to be protected. All of this will keep the pressure on the Government of Yukon to follow through with its election promise.