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Yukon Government files legal defence of Peel land use plan

The Yukon government has filed an outline of its legal defence in the pending court case over the Peel Watershed land use plan, saying again that it has the right to reject the planning commission’s recommendations.
The Hart River Canyons in the Peel Watershed. The Yukon Government has filed its statement of defence in the legal case challenging its Peel land use plan. (Juri Peepre)

The Yukon Government has filed an outline of its legal defence in the pending court case over the Peel Watershed land use plan.

The government released its land use plan in January. Two Yukon First Nations and two conservation groups, led by lawyer Thomas Berger, promptly filed a lawsuit arguing the plan violates land claim agreements.

The government’s plan calls for 29 per cent of the Peel Watershed to be protected from development  far less than the 80 per cent recommended by the Peel River planning commission.

In its outline of argument the government says it has the right to reject the planning commission’s recommendations.

"When the Commission declined to provide a recommended plan that was balanced, it was open to the government, after proper consultation, to modify the plan to achieve that balance," the document reads.

The Yukon Government also says land claim agreements that prompted the Peel Land Use planning process are clear: neither government nor First Nations are required to adopt the recommended plan on its lands if they don't like it. 

Both sides retain jurisdiction, to "approve, reject, or modify" the plan, as it applies to land under their control, and neither side can be forced to accept a plan they deem inadequate.

The planning process, they say, "was not to constrain, but to provide a process for informed decision making."

The court document points out that 97 per cent of the Peel is comprised of "non-settlement land," where the Yukon Government is "the only entity that has legal authority to approve planning."

The case will be heard in Yukon Supreme Court next month.