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Supreme Court of Canada rules for Yukon First Nations in watershed development suit

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada ruled [judgment, PDF] Friday in favor of the Yukon First Nations in their action to fight the Yukon government's proposed plan to allow further economic development of the Peel Watershed.

The court declared that the government's plan did not act in accordance with guidelines authorized in the Umbrella Final Agreement [text, PDF], which established a collaborative regional land use planning process that was adopted in modern land claims agreements between Yukon, Canada and the First Nations. The Umbrella Final Agreement recognizes the traditional territories of the First Nations in the Yukon portion of the Peel Watershed and their right to participate in the management of public resources in that area.

By voluntary agreement of the Yukon government and the affected First Nations, the Yukon Land Use Planning Council established the Peel Watershed Planning Commission in 2004 to develop a Regional Land Use Plan for the portion of the Peel Watershed within Yukon.

After the development of the Commission's plan, Chapter 11 of the Umbrella Final Agreement states that the Yukon government "shall then approve, reject or modify that part of the plan recommended ... after [c]onsultation with any affected Yukon First Nation and any affected Yukon community."

However, the Yukon government failed to consult any of the First Nations prior to adopting a final plan that made substantial changes to increase the access and development of the region, resulting in suit.

"In this case, [the] Yukon [government] did not have the authority to make the changes that it made to the Final Recommended Plan. [The] changes were ... not based on modifications it had proposed earlier in the process, nor ... did [they] respect the land use planning process in the Final Agreements. ... [The government]'s approval of its plan must therefore be quashed," stated Justice Karakatsanis.

The court returned the parties to the earlier stage of Chapter 11 where the Yukon government can approve, reject, or modify the final recommended plan after consultation with the First Nations.

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