Lake bed off limits
MACA, feds say no to city hall request to control houseboats

Houseboaters on Yellowknife Bay got a boost in their battle with the city recently. The federal and territorial governments say they have no intention of transferring jurisdiction of the lake bed to the city without the consent of the Yellowknives Dene -- Richard Gleeson/NNSL photo

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 10/00) - The ongoing attempt by the city to assert control over houseboats in Yellowknife Bay has suffered a major setback.

Last week houseboaters on Yellowknife Bay received a letter and report from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs informing them a city request to take control of the lake bed beneath their homes is not proceeding.

"Neither the federal government nor the GNWT would support a transfer of the waterbed without the support of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation," wrote MACA deputy minister Dave Murray.

"To date there has been no consultation with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation on this matter."

But Mayor Dave Lovell says the Yellowknives Dene are on the city's side on this one.

"I've talked to the Yellowknives Dene and we all agreed we have the same problem," said the mayor, saying the Yellowknives acknowledged houseboats could be established off Ndilo as easily as the city.

Lovell said the city will be taking a new approach to dealing with the houseboats.

"From now on, when we see something happening down there -- we know the Coast Guard has a responsibility and (the Department of) Health has a responsibility -- we'll just limit our liability by informing each of them, 'this is happening' and ask them what they're going to do."

For years, the city has been attempting to tax, zone and apply building standards to houseboats. Five years ago it launched the first of two ongoing court actions against individual houseboat owners.

The letter was welcomed by houseboaters, but hardly news, said houseboat owner Fraser Weir, an intervenor in one of the two court cases the city has launched.

Weir said the letter and the report that accompanied it echoed what owners have known all along -- that the federal government and not the city has jurisdiction over Yellowknife Bay.

"If they had any respect for the rule of law, they would settle up at this point. But I don't think the city administration does have any respect for the rule of law, and I suspect they will continue to badger us," Weir said.

Lovell said there are no plans to drop the court cases.

In a report accompanying the letter, MACA noted that even if the Yellowknives Dene agreed to allow the city to take control of the lake bed, 14 territorial laws would have to be amended to give the city legal authority over the lake bed.

"Changes to this broad range of legislation will require considerable effort and time on the part of the GNWT, and this would only be undertaken if all parties are in agreement, including aboriginal groups," the report stated.

The Yellowknives Dene and MACA could not be reached for comment by deadline.