Supreme Court to hear appeal on Yukon Peel watershed decision

The Supreme Court of Canada has announced it will hear an appeal by a group of Yukon First Nations and environmental groups.

Court announced its decision Thursday morning

The Peel River Watershed has become a symbolic issue in Yukon as environmentalists clash with the government and industry. (Submitted by CPAWS)

The Supreme Court of Canada has announced it will hear an appeal by a group of Yukon First Nations and environmental groups.

The Nacho Nyak Dun and Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nations, along with the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Yukon Conservation Society, want an earlier decision by the Yukon Court of Appeal on the Peel planning process overturned.

"I think right now it's sort of a procedural win," said Jeff Langlois, counsel for the Gwich'in Tribal Council in the N.W.T. "It is a positive development for the First Nations in the area."

The Yukon Court of Appeal ruling quashed the Yukon Government's Peel land use plan, sending the process back to an earlier stage for more consultation.

Conservation groups and First Nations believe the ruling was a mistake in law that ignored First Nation land claim agreements. 

"The Yukon Court of Appeal essentially grants a remedy which is, 'Have another shot at this Yukon government.' My client's position is that's just not honourable," Langlois said. 

"What my client is interested in is having the final recommended plan implemented. That was the plan that was discussed by all parties over a very long period of time and was recommended by an independent body."

The territorial government has argued against the Supreme Court getting involved, saying there's no issue of national or public importance at stake. 

The Gwich'in Tribal Council, Langlois said, hopes to join the case as an intervenor. "And I suspect there will be others," he said.

It's still not clear when the case will be heard.

The government is at odds with First Nations and environmental groups over how much of the Peel River watershed should be protected from development.

A map shows the expansive Peel River watershed. (CBC)