Yukon government switches lawyers in Peel watershed appeal

The Yukon government may be looking for a different way out of its legal battle over the Peel River watershed. It has replaced a top Vancouver lawyer with Torys LLP, a Toronto law firm.

New law firm has a good reputation for its dealings with First Nations

Justice Ron Veale heard the dispute over the Peel Watershed land use plan in July. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

A law professor at the University of Ottawa says the Toronto law firm hired by the Yukon government to handle its appeal of the Peel watershed land use case has a good reputation.

The government replaced a top Vancouver lawyer with Torys LLP to handle the appeal of a Yukon Supreme Court decision that found the government was not following land claim agreements with First Nations. 

Gilles LeVasseur says Torys has experience dealing with First Nations and particularly their interactions with government and mining companies.

He says the firm will understand that deep connections between aboriginal people and the land make cases like this different from other legal disputes.

"If they need to litigate and do the case for appeal, then they can do it," LeVasseur says. "But in the meantime you know, you can still have that side discussion and negotiation."

Mark Pindera, an assistant deputy minister in Yukon's justice department, says the government will wait to see the new firm's recommendations before making a decision.

"The team at Torys was selected because of their expertise and clearly these particular counsel come with an exceptional reputation and track record," he says. 

Although the law firm's website notes "recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions have reinforced the importance of building relationships with Aboriginal peoples to develop resource projects in Canada," Pindera won't say if that means the government now wants a negotiated settlement on the Peel.

In explaining his reasons for appealing the Supreme Court's decision, Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski ​told the CBC in January that land claims and self government agreements do not give First Nations the authority to make decisions on Crown land. 

Yukon's NDP and Liberal parties have said they want the government to abandon its appeal.


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