Yukon miners fear 'uncertainty' following Peel decision

The president of Tarsis Resources and the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines say the territory’s land use planning process is creating uncertainty for people who’ve invested in the territory.
A campsite on the Hart River, at the Elliot Creek confluence in the Peel watershed. People in Yukon's mining industry say land use planning in the territory is creating uncertainty for people who want to invest. (Juri Peepre)

People in the mining industry are questioning Yukon's land use planning process in the wake of yesterday's Peel court decision.

“The way it's currently being undertaken is creating uncertainty for industry,” says Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.

Yukon Supreme Court Judge Ron Veale ruled yesterday that the government must return to the planning process for the Peel watershed, a wilderness the size of Nova Scotia and home to four First Nations.

In 2011, the Yukon government rejected the final recommendations from the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, which called for 80 per cent of the area to be protected from development, in favour of its own plan, which provided protection for less than 30 per cent of the area.

But if the government’s aim was to create certainty for industry, it’s not working.

Marc Blythe is the president of Tarsis Resources, which has more than a dozen properties in Yukon, including some claims in the Peel. He says the Peel process raises concern for those who’ve invested in the territory about what's going to happen next.

“Suddenly you've got a bit of a question mark as to whether or not those activities and moving those claims forward would be OK or not.”

Blythe says the process in the Peel was clouded by overblown fears.

“Really the only things that would ever be mined there without this kind of protection is things that were particularly attractive economically and there's very few of those in Yukon, much less in the Peel.”

Blythe says he does not believe there is consensus among Yukoners to close large regions of the territory to mining.

Hartland, from the chamber of mines, says planning should be done through talking, not courtroom showdowns.

Pasloski disappointed

Meanwhile, Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski says he’s disappointed with yesterday’s court decision, but he needs time to review the details.

“I think what we need to do is look at the ruling that's come out from Justice Veale and then we'll be able to comment on the case and the path forward,” Pasloski says.

The environmental groups and First Nations say they hope there's no appeal.

The chief of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, Ed Champion, said it's now time for reconciliation. He also said Massi Cho, thank you, especially to the elders, "for all the hard work they've done over the years and their commitment to seeing this through."

Thomas Berger represented the Na-Cho Nyak Dun and the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nations, which teamed up with two environmental groups to bring the lawsuit against the Yukon government. Both have settled land claims under the Umbrella Final Agreement with the territory in the 1990s.

Berger says that agreement provides for a unique, community-based, collaborative land use planning process, and the Yukon Government didn't follow the rules.

“They really went off on a frolic of their own, developed their own plan. All of that was contrary to what these constitutional instruments, that are binding on the Yukon and its government, have laid down.”

Berger says he too hopes the case doesn't go to appeal, but if it does he'll be there.


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