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A canvas wall tent set up in the bush near Yellowknife. Non-permanent structures like this don’t necessarily violate occupancy regulations on territorial land. Proposed changes to lands acts in the N.W.T. could give lands inspectors more power to determine who is, or is not, in violation of the lands act. (Jay Legere/CBC) The territorial government is reviewing the Commissioner’s Land Act and the N.W.T. Lands Act.

It is gauging public opinion on changes to modernize the two acts and make them more efficient, through a series of public meetings across the N.W.T.

For participants in Yellowknife, the message was clear: crack down on squatters.

A handful of people attended a meeting in Yellowknife last week. Some said they want to see the government crack down on people who set up cabins without a lease.

"It’s been a real travesty of justice," said one resident who did not want to be named. He was frustrated by what he said was the tendency for squatters to eventually get a lease for land they had been occupying illegally.

"It makes me want to go out and break the law." Backcountry build-ups

Out in the bush beyond Yellowknife — as well as on small islands along the shoreline stretching out to Great Slave Lake — is peppered with everything from small, obviously temporary, tent encampments, to stick-framed cabins the scale and permanency of a fine country home.

Sometimes a canvas-walled tent slowly morphs over the years into a relatively permanent wood-framed structure.

One thing not obvious from looking at a structure is whether or not it is on leased land or not. There’s a certain leniency for non-permanent structures set up in the bush, but when it comes to a permanent structure, if it’s not authorized to be there it may technically be a squatters encampment, with exceptions for Indigenous traditional use.

Dave Jones, a resident of Yellowknife, said he’s been filing complaints against squatters for at least 10 years, but has never seen any action.

"So somebody goes up and sets up a tent-frame, and then it becomes a cabin, and then it becomes a building, and you tell me that they don’t need tenure?" Jones asked representatives from the Department of Lands.

"Well why don’t you figure out something they do need so either they stay there and get tenure or they’re not there and they’re gone." This map illustrates areas near Yellowknife that fall under the jurisdiction of the N.W.T. Commissioner’s Land Act. The area outlined in orange falls under the Commissioner’s Land Act. (GNWT) Two acts, one land

The two different acts — with differing scopes of authority, enforcement policies, procedures and penalties — is a holdover from when the N.W.T. was subject to federal jurisdiction over much of the territory as Crown land.

Since devolution, the government of the Northwest Territories took control of most public land, apart from lands included in land claim agreements with Indigenous governments and other lands the federal government kept control of.

Commissioner’s land was, and remains, under the jurisdiction of the territorial government. Land now regulated by the N.W.T. Lands Act is public land formerly regulated by the federal government and since handed over to the government of the Northwest Territories.

Now, the government wants to harmonize the two acts to reflect changes in authority since devolution.Among many proposed changes is one that will make it easier to get squatters off territorial land. The current problem is that the minister of lands has to formally decide whether or not a person is illegally occupying territorial land — government land inspectors don’t have that authority on territorial land.The change to the Lands Act would allow the […]

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