News: Supreme Court Ruling Protects Yukon Wilderness

The Supreme Court of Canada on Friday quashed the Yukon government’s decision to dramatically weaken a commission’s plan to preserve a vast wilderness area in the Peel Watershed, handing a victory to First Nations communities in the territory.

In a unanimous decision, the top court overturned a Court of Appeal lower court ruling that gave the territorial government the right to completely revisit the process undertaken by the Yukon Land Use Planning Council, a joint body set up under a modern treaty with four First Nations.

Regardless of the decision, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver – who was elected a year ago – has promised to respect the recommendations of the land use council to preserve 55 per cent of the wilderness area permanently, and impose a temporary ban on development for another 25 per cent of the area.

However, First Nations leaders said it is critical that the court establish the government follow the procedures laid out under treaties.

At 68,000 square kilometres, the Peel Watershed is one of the largest intact wilderness watersheds in North America, the size of Nova Scotia. The former Yukon government wanted to open 70 per cent of the watershed to development.

“This means a lot to our people, this decision,” Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation chief Roberta Joseph said in an interview. “Our people strongly supported our First Nations to take it to the Supreme Court because we needed certainty. We need certainty in terms of what is laid out in our agreement.”

More on this story in Shaw McCarthy’s article in the Globe and Mail.