Peel watershed appeal opens with arguments over jurisdiction

Two Whitehorse courtrooms were packed today for the start of a legal appeal that could decide the future of the Peel River Watershed. The Yukon Government hopes to have a December decision that quashed its land use plan for the region overturned.

Dozens protest outside Whitehorse courthouse demanding region be protected

A woman takes part in a silent protest against the Yukon Government's plan for the Peel River Watershed outside the Whitehorse courthouse Thursday. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Protesters and onlookers packed two Whitehorse courtrooms today for the start of a legal appeal that could decide the future of the Peel River Watershed.

The Yukon Government is in court hoping to have a December decision, one that quashed its land use plan for the region, overturned.

First Nation elders and youth travelled from the communities to watch the proceedings. Elder Betty Lucas said she made the trip from Mayo because she wants to see the Peel protected.

"Keep it clean without mines for our children," she said.

Government bound by lower court ruling

For this appeal the Yukon government hired a new law firm out of Toronto. Lawyer John Laskin argues since the initial trial judge quashed the government plan for the Peel it bound the Yukon government to a plan with which it disagrees.

He maintains government must have the final say over what happens on public land.

And he told the court the Peel Planning Commission understood what the the territorial government wanted — essentially less protected land and the potential for more development.

"They got it, they just didn't agree with it." Laskin said in court.

Laskin also maintains the government simply modified the Peel plan when it reduced the amount of protected land from 80 per cent of the watershed to around 30 per cent. 

Appeal court judges asked government lawyers if that change amounted to an effective rejection of the plan.

'Off the constitutional rails'

This afternoon lawyer Thomas Berger began arguments on behalf of First Nations and environmental groups.

He says the Yukon Government failed to follow the rules as laid out in land claims agreements and didn't provide written reasons for modifications to the planning commission.

"The Yukon went off on a frolic of its own" and "went off the constitutional rails," he said. 


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