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The 1898 Yukon Act

Introduction by Murray Lundberg


      To the traditional peoples of the area now known as the Yukon Territory, boundaries between groups were not fixed entities, but indistinct and flexible corridors which separated hunting and fishing areas. The bitter rivalries inherent in the rapid expansion of the European fur trade on the North Pacific coast during the late 18th and early 19th century, however, were not conducive to such flexible boundaries. An agreement between Russia and Great Britain in 1825, a year after the first Hudson's Bay explorer/trader set foot in the Yukon, set the 141st meridian as the boundary between their territories to the north of the 60th parallel, and a vague strip of land along the coast as far south as 54° 40' was set aside for exclusive use by Russian traders.

      These boundaries were merely meant as trading boundaries, and no government structure was given to either Russian America, or to the British territory to the east, most of which hadn't even been named by the British. The Russian American Company and Hudson's Bay Company were very much in control of their own affairs. This situation was to last for seventy years, despite the slowly-growing number of prospectors arriving in the upper Yukon basin in the 1880s.

      The first recognition of "Yukon" as a distinct political entity in Canada occurred on October 2, 1895, when the North-west Territories was divided into four provisional districts, "for the convenience of settlers in the unorganized and unnamed districts of the North-west Territories and for postal purposes." The districts were named Ungava, Franklin, Mackenzie and Yukon (Order in Council No. 2640). The boundaries set for the Yukon district at that time were the same as its current configuration, except for a few miles in the southwest corner, where the location of the boundary wasn't agreed upon until 1903.

      The next change in the political status of the Yukon occurred with the creation of the Yukon Judicial District, on August 16, 1897, in response to the rapidly-changing administrative needs of the area due to the Klondike gold rush. There was still, however, no form of local government, basically just a statement that the laws of Canada (Britain) would from that time on be enforced. In practical terms, however, the North West Mounted Police became the government, controlling everything from mail delivery to criminal prosecutions. In June 1898, at the peak of the Klondike gold rush (from the perspective of population) the Yukon achieved recognition as a separate territory, and a government structure was established, although all members of the government were appointed by the federal government, not elected by Yukoners.



Yukon Act

An Act to provide for the Government of the Yukon District

61 Victoria, Chap. 6

[Assented to 13th June, 1898]

     

      1.     This Act may be cited as The Yukon Territory Act.

      2.     The Yukon Judicial District, as constituted by the proclamation of the Governor in Council bearing date the sixteenth day of August, eighteen hundred and ninety-seven, and contained in the schedule to this Act, is hereby constituted and declared to be a separate territory under the name of the Yukon Territory, and the same shall no longer form part of the North-west Territories.

      3.     The Governor in Council may, by instrument under the Great Seal, appoint for the Yukon Territory a chief executive officer to be styled and known as the Commissioner of the Yukon Territory.

      4.     The Commissioner shall administer the government of the territory under the instructions from time to time given him by the Governor in Council or the Minister of the Interior.

      5.     The Governor in Council by warrant under his privy seal may constitute and appoint such and so many persons from time to time not exceeding in the whole six persons, as may be deemed desirable to be a Council to aid the Commissioner in the adminstration of the territory, and such persons so appointed to the Council shall before entering upon the duties of their offices take and subscribe before the Commissioner such oaths of allegiance and office as the Governor in Council may prescribe.

      2.     The majority of the Council including the Commissioner shall form a quorum.

      3.     Each judge of the court shall be ex officio a member of the Council, but the total number of members of the Council, including the judges, shall not exceed six.

      6.     The Commissioner in Council shall have the same powers to make ordinances for the government of the territory as are at the date of this Act possessed by the Lieutenant Governor of the North-west Territories, acting by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly thereof to make ordinances for the government of the North-west Territories, except as such powers may be limited by order of the Governor in Council.

      7.     A copy of every such ordinance made by the Commissioner in Council shall be despatched by mail to the Governor in Council within ten days after the passing thereof, and shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as conveniently may be thereafter, and any such ordinance may be disallowed by the Governor in Council at any time within two years after its passage.

      8.     Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Governor in Council may make ordinances for the peace, order and good government of the territory and to Her Majesty's subjects and others therein, but no ordinanace made by the Governor in Council shall,

(a)     impose any tax or any duty of customs or any excise or any penalty exceeding one hundred dollars, or
(b)     alter or repeal the punishment provided in any Act of the Parliament of Canada in force in the territory for any offence, or
(c)     appropriate any public money, lands or property of Canada without authority of Parliament:
Provided that this section shall not apply to any law extending or applying or declared applicable to the territory by any Act of the Parliament of Canada.

      9.     Subject to the provisions of this Act, the laws relating to civil and criminal matters and the ordinances as the same exist in the North-west Territories at the time of the passing of this Act, shall be and remain in force in the said Yukon Territory in so far as the same are applicable thereto until ammended or repealed by the Parliament of Canada or by any ordinance of the Governor in Council made under the provisions of this Act.

      10.     There is hereby constituted and appointed a superior court of record in and for the said territory, which shall be called the Territorial Court.

      1.     The said court shall consist of one or more judges, who shall be appointed by the Governor in Council by letters patent under the Great Seal.

      2.     Any person may be appointed judge of the court who is or has been a judge of a superior or county court of any province of Canada or of the North-west Territories, or a barrister or advocate of at least ten years' standing at the bar of any such province or of the North-west Territories.

      3.     A judge of the court shall not hold any other office or emolument under the Government of Canada, or of any province of Canada or of the said territory, but this provision shall not prevent a judge from being eligible for appointment as a member of the Council of the said territory.

      11.     The law governing the residence, tenure of office, oath of office, rights and privileges of the judge or judges of the court, and the power, authority and jurisdiction of the court shall be the same, mutatis mutandis, as the law governing the residence, tenure of office, oath of office, rights and privileges of the judges, and the power, authority and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the North-west Territories, except as the same are expressly varied in this Act.

      12.     Sittings of the court presided over by a judge or judges shall be held at such times and places as the Governor in Council or the Commissioner in Council shall appoint.

      13.     The Governor in Council may appoint such officers of the court as may be deemed necessary, and may define and specify the duties and emoluments of the officers so appointed.

      14.     The judge of the Supreme Court of the North-west Territories assigned to the Yukon Judicial District at the time this Act comes into force, and the officers of that court for the said district, shall be the judge and officers of the Territorial Court until otherwise provided, but the said judge may at his option, at any time within twelve months after this Act comes into force, resume his office as one of the judges of the Supreme Court of the North-west Territories, his transfer to that court being in such case made by Order of the Governor in Council.

      15.     The procedure in criminal cases in the Terriorial Court shall, subject to the provisions of any Act of the Parliament of Canada, conform as nearly as possible to the procedure existing in like cases in the North-west Territories at the time of the passing of this Act.

      16.     While in the said Yukon Territory the Commissioner of the territory, each member of the Council thereof, every judge of the court, and every commissioned officer of the North-west Mounted Police, shall ex officio have, possess and exercise all the powers of a justice of the peace, or of two justices of the peace, under any law or ordinances, civil or criminal, in force in the said territory, and the Governor in Council may, by commission, appoint such other persons justices of the peace or police commissioners, having each the authority of two justices of the peace within the said territory, as may be deemed desirable.

      17.     No person shall be summoned or sworn as a juryman on any trial in the Territorial Court unless he is a British subject.

      18.     Every lock-up, guard-room, guard-house or place of confinement provided by or for or uinder the direction of the North-west Mounted Police Force, or the regular military force, or a municipal body, or by the Commissioner or Commissioner in Council of the territory, shall be a penitentiary, jail, and place of confinement for all persons sentenced to imprisonment in the territory, and the Commissioner of the territory shall direct in which penitentiary, jail or place of confinement any person sentenced to imprisonment shall be imprisoned.

      2.     The Governor in Council shall have power to make rules and regulations respecting the management, discipline and policy of every penitentiary, jail or place of confinement used as such in the territory.

      19.     All persons possessing the power of two justices of the peace in the territory shall also be coroners in and for the said territory.

      20.     The Governor in Council may appoint such officers as are necessary for the due administration of justice in the territory, may fix the fees or emoluments of such officers and may fix the fees or emoluments of coroners, justices of the peace, jurors, witnesses and other persons attending or performing duties in relation to the administration of criminal justice, and provide the manner in which such fees and emoluments shall be paid.

      21.     In case of the death of the Commissioner the senior member of the Council shall act as Commissioner until a successor is appointed.



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