The Peel appeal hearing started this morning at 9 am at the Yukon Law Courts in Whitehorse, but the crowds started to gather more than an hour before to secure a spot in one of the two courtrooms to take in the proceedings. Courtroom 1, where the arguments were physically taking place, was jam-packed with the appellants, respondents, First Nation elders, and media. The proceedings were live-streamed into Courtroom 3 for members of the public. This room was overflowing with a lineup outside the door waiting to get in at various times throughout the day.
John Laskin, senior counsel for Yukon Government (the appellant), started the day off taking the panel of three Yukon Court of Appeal Justices (Chief Justice Bauman, Madam Justice Smith and Justice Goepel) through the reasons for Yukon Government’s appeal of the Yukon Supreme Court ruling, released December 2014 by Justice Veale. Laskin outlined that Yukon Government believes that Justice Veale erred in five points of his ruling. These points are:
- The proposal of modifications (rather than rejection or acceptance) signifies tacit approval of the parts of the plan that weren’t proposed to be modified.
- Modifications to the final recommended plan must be based on previous modifications to earlier versions of the plan.
- Points 1 and 2 in Minister Rouble’s letter outlining Yukon Government’s proposed modifications lack sufficient specificity.
- Yukon Government’s modifications should not be derived from previous modifications.
- Yukon Government failed in their duty to consult.
The three presiding justices posed a number of questions to Mr. Laskin as he worked through his arguments, resulting in extensive back-and-forth.
During the lunch break a Water Ceremony for the Peel took place on the front steps of the Law Courts. Over 200 people gathered in the pouring rain for an hour to show their support for Peel protection. With them they brought over 350 vials of water collected from Yukon water bodies of personal significance that were mingled together in large glass vessels.
Once court resumed, John Terry, another member of Yukon Government’s legal counsel, took to the podium to elaborate on the issue of remedy. Terry argued that if the appeal court finds Justice Veale’s ruling stands and the Government’s plan is quashed, the remedy Justice Veale presented is incorrect. Terry pointed to 4 reasons he felt the remedy was inappropriate. These were:
- The remedy fails to uphold the status quo.
- The remedy fails to take into account the role of an elected legislated government.
- The remedy isn’t fair to Yukon Government.
- The remedy is not consistent with reconciliation.
John Terry’s presentation concluded the appellants’ arguments leaving a short time for Thomas Berger to begin to delve into the respondents’ argument for why the ruling by Justice Veale should be upheld by the Court of Appeal. Much of his discussion and the resulting questions from the three Justices revolved around how and when Yukon Government could modify or reject the Peel land use plan.
The day wrapped up with a crowd of over 300 people coming together at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for a delicious BBQ for the Peel. The respondents took the opportunity to thank the public for all of their support during the legal battle and then Dana Tziyza-Tramm, a member of the recent First Nations youth Peel Watershed canoe trip, shared youths’ perspective on the court case and the need to protect the watershed. A citizen of the Gwich’in people from the North West Territories also spoke to the crowd. This was followed by the closing of the Water Ceremony for the Peel, led by Nacho Nyak Dun elder Jimmy Johnny, where the waters mingled earlier in the day were poured into the Yukon River.
Court resumes tomorrow at 9 am, when Mr. Berger, along with his co-counsel Margaret Rosling and Patricia Riley, will present the meat of their arguments. This will be followed by a presentation by Jeff Langlois, counsel for the interveners in this case – the Gwich’in Tribal Council, and then a response by Mr. Laskin on behalf of the appellants.