A former Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) band councillor and Ndilo chief candidate who fought to keep a parcel of land that amassed over 70 broken-down vehicles has been ordered by a judge to remove any property from the site he wishes to retain by the end of the month.
Alex Beaulieu, an elder who served on council in the 1980s, entered into an agreement with the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NTHC) in 2003. The agency provided funding – a forgivable loan over a five-year span – to build a small dwelling as part of an “Elders Land Initiative.”
The agreement followed a council resolution in 2002 from the YKDFN which granted Beaulieu permission to occupy the site – located about 23 kilometres west of Yellowknife, just off of Highway 3 – as long as he resided on the property.
Nearly a year after entering into the agreement, NTHC advised Beaulieu he was in breach of the conditions because he was not using the site as his primary residence. He was living in Ndilo at the time.
YKDFN then passed a motion in 2004 to revoke Beaulieu’s permission to occupy the site, citing concerns about how the area was being used and the fact he wasn’t living there.
Two inspections of the site conducted by the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (DIAND) followed. In 2008, at the site of the cabin, approximately 35 derelict vehicles were found. Two years later, the number of inoperable vehicles at the site had swelled to 49.
Beaulieu claimed ownership of the vehicles, and in 2010 DIAND determined he was not authorized to occupy the site, setting the stage for years of legal wrangling.
The territorial government filed a statement of claim against Beaulieu in 2012 and he responded with a counter-claim of his own.
Following devolution in 2014, the GNWT took responsibility of the territory’s lands and resources, and in 2017 the Department of Lands conducted its own inspection of the site. Seventy-two inoperable vehicles were noted to be at the site.
Last year, the GNWT applied for a summary judgement of the matter – a quicker, more cost efficient way of resolving a legal dispute without going to trial – arguing Beaulieu was effectively trespassing on land they control; land he was occupying without permission or a valid claim.
Beaulieu argued he had been granted permission and authorization to occupy the site by YKDFN and the territory’s housing corp. He also claimed he was entitled to the site on the basis of a treaty right, according to court records.
The GNWT argued Beaulieu’s use of the site violated YKDFN’s land use policy, and that YKDFN’s resolution to permit him to occupy the site was “never intended or capable of conveying any right in land to Beaulieu.
“Mr Beaulieu is essentially operating a junkyard,” the GNWT argued, court records show.
In a written statement of NWT Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar’s reasons for judgement, filed on Tuesday, Mahar wrote there was no evidence Beaulieu actually lived at the site, meaning he’d been occupying the area in a way that violated the order granted by the YKDFN.
Beaulieu’s agreement with the NTHC was “never intended to convey any rights to the land the cabin was sitting on,” wrote Mahar. Additionally, Beaulieu never followed a “key condition” of the housing corporation’s loan – that he reside at the site.
Mahar also rejected Beaulieu’s treaty rights claim.
“Beaulieu’s use of the site, as a depository for a growing collection of derelict vehicles … can in no way be seen as the sort of traditional use from which land rights of this flow,” he ruled.
Mahar granted the GNWT’s application for summary judgement on the grounds the issue didn’t require a trial to bring forth a “fair and just” resolution.
He dismissed Beaulieu’s counterclaim and granted the territory possession of the site. Beaulieu has until the end of May to retrieve property he wants to keep, including the cabin, Mahar ruled.
Beaulieu is ordered not to leave additional items at the site.
Beaulieu, a pensioner with a limited income, won’t be ordered to pay for a cleanup of the area or remediation costs for any potential environmental damage.