Friday, March 13, 2015

Yukon puts new legal guns on Peel appeal

A Toronto-based law firm that specializes in international business has been hired to review the Peel land use planning court case for the Yukon government.

A three-man legal team from Torys LLP, which includes retired Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci, replaces B.C. lawyer John Hunter on the controversial Peel lawsuit file.

Hunter unsuccessfully defended the government against the 2014 lawsuit launched by two Yukon First Nations and two environmental groups.They claimed the government's handling of the Peel land use plan violated the Yukon's treaties. After listening to five days of arguments and pouring through dozens of documents, Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale agreed.

In his Dec. 2 landmark ruling, he quashed the government's new Peel plan and ordered it return to the point in the planning process where it went off the rails. Veale also restricted the government's ability to reject the final recommended plan outright after conducting a final round of public consultation.

The government's decision to appeal Veale's ruling came as no surprise, but it angered many Yukoners who say the long and protracted legal battle is damaging the economy.

Now the government says it's "considering all its options" by hiring new legal counsel "to make recommendations to the Yukon government on how to proceed."

That could mean the government's thinking about dropping the appeal, but given its track record on the Peel it could also simply be another stalling tactic to give it time to sort out the growing suite of other legal hot potatoes, like the pending changes to environmental reviews of resource projects.

The new legal team "will engage in a thorough analysis of the record and give us their fresh views, with the objectivity that comes with being new to the matter," said assistant deputy minister of justice Mark Pindera.

As for a timeframe, the government has until the end of the month to file its written arguments but it could ask the Yukon Court of Appeal for an extension, said Pindera.

The court hasn't set a date to hear the case. The Yukon's appeal court is made up of three B.C. judges who usually only come to the territory once or twice a year to hear all the cases.

When the government filed its notice of appeal in late December, it told the media it needed "clarity" around the land use planning provisions of the Yukon's final land claim agreements. 

At the same time it imposed a ban on new mineral claim staking and oil/gas/coal dispositions in the Peel until the end of 2015.

Yukon Supreme Court Peel decision
Yukon Supreme Court Peel media summary