Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port as the lobster season on Nova Scotia’s South Shore begins, in West Dover, N.S., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port as the lobster season on Nova Scotia’s South Shore begins, in West Dover, N.S., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Parallels drawn between police action over B.C. pipeline fights, Mi’kmaq fishers

Then there was the RCMP’s raid on Wet’suwet’en Nation territory in February

By Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

The RCMP’s failure to protect Mi’kmaq fishers from intimidation, assault and destruction in Nova Scotia demonstrates how the Canadian state is all too ready to permit or perpetrate violence against Indigenous Peoples, say First Nations groups and B.C. politicians.

On the one hand, police have been quick to arrest Indigenous leaders when they might threaten the interests of fossil fuel companies, as in the case of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX), where RCMP arrested a Secwepemc hereditary chief and others last week to clear a path for the pipeline’s construction.

Then there was the RCMP’s raid on Wet’suwet’en Nation territory in February, to clear the route for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, where officers pointed their guns, destroyed a gate, extinguished a sacred fire and arrested people, including several matriarchs, loading them into police vans and cuffing them with zip ties.

In the cases concerning the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines, the RCMP were enforcing court injunctions allowing safe access to work areas.

On the other hand, RCMP have been criticized as slow to act as an angry mob descended upon a lobster pound in West Pubnico, N.S., kicking doors and pelting the building with rocks.

“The RCMP just stood there,” one lobster fisher with the Sipekne’katik First Nation told the Toronto Star.

In addition to the lobster pound attack, a vehicle has been set ablaze, lobster traps have been pulled out of the ocean and the chief of Sipekne’katik First Nation, Michael Sack, was assaulted.

“I definitely see parallels, with the state allowing violence to happen to Indigenous people,” said Molly Wickham, spokeswoman for the Gidimt’en camp of Wet’suwet’en Nation members.

“In our case it was the government allowing RCMP to come in and bring violence into our communities,” Wickham said. “The actions of RCMP show citizens what they are allowed to do to Indigenous people.”

The Mi’kmaq’s treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood has also been affirmed by the Supreme Court, and the Sipekne’katik First Nation was exercising its constitutionally protected rights when it opened a self-regulated lobster fishery in September.

Despite this, “little action has been taken to prosecute the criminal behaviour of those inciting hatred and terror and who have created an environment of lawlessness and violence,” the BC Assembly of First Nations said on Oct. 18.

The RCMP failed to uphold the Constitution and the honour of the Crown in Mi’kmaq territory, argued the assembly. They said the turn of events threatens to “unravel” decades of work towards reconciliation, meaningful dialogue and respect for rights, title and First Nations’ jurisdictions.

“As Canadians witness events unfold in the Atlantic lobster fishery dispute it has become even more apparent that the standard of justice and law enforcement in Canada are deeply flawed and corrupted by systemic racism,” it said.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Monday during a press conference in Ottawa that the acts of violence in Nova Scotia were “disgusting, unacceptable and racist in nature.”

The situation demonstrated that, “once again … Indigenous people have been let down by the police, those who are sworn to protect them,” he said.

“Throughout history, Indigenous Peoples have experienced continuous discrimination and to this day still suffer the consequences of colonial practices. But they have shown an extreme resilience and courage in standing up for their rights.”

The federal government has said it strongly condemns the violence that has taken place and that officials want “respectful dialogue” concerning Mi’kmaq treaty rights. Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan has said negotiations are ongoing and that she will continue to work with the Mi’kmaq.

Blair’s cabinet colleague, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, stood up for the force’s efforts in Nova Scotia during the same press conference. Asked directly if he agreed that police were failing the Mi’kmaq, he said the police “have a responsibility to protect all Canadians” as well as uphold Indigenous rights.

“I believe the vast majority of officers do their best to serve those communities with professionalism and with integrity and respect but clearly there are concerns within the communities that we are working hard to address,” said Blair.

Many of the RCMP officers deployed in the area are Indigenous themselves, the minister noted, and grew up in the communities in which they serve.

“I think it’s important that cultural competency and understanding of not just the long history, but the cultural concerns and the very legitimate concerns of Indigenous people on how the police serve and protect them and uphold and respect Indigenous rights is critical to that work,” he said.

The Nova Scotia RCMP says it is taking steps to ensure “those who unlawfully interfere with or threaten the safety of any person or property may be held accountable in accordance with the laws of Canada.” The police have laid charges in relation to Sack’s assault and also laid charges in relation to the vehicle fire.

RCMP “has a significant presence” in the area where the vehicle fire occured, said the force, “including general duty officers from several local detachments officers from across the division and RCMP in Prince Edward Island with specialized training in de-escalation and crowd control.”

The police’s “division liaison team” was also fully engaged in the area, they said, “continuing their work to build and maintain relationships among those involved.” An RCMP spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.

Sack, however, cast doubt on the RCMP’s ability to control the situation, saying he’d prefer the military step in, and calling the RCMP “useless.”

Blair said he appreciated Sack’s comments and shared concern over the violence but noted that it wasn’t a military operation, it was a “peacekeeping operation” and was the responsibility of the police of jurisdiction in the area — in this case, the RCMP.

“We have taken steps necessary to ensure that they have adequate resources to do the job,” he said.

The minister also said one of the best ways to prevent further criminality and violence is to hold people to account when crimes have been committed.

“I want to assure Canadians that the RCMP know that they have a responsibility to maintain the peace. When crimes are committed, people are to be charged and held to account. Those investigations are ongoing. Those court cases will proceed,” he said.

Still, current and former Parliamentarians continued to raise questions and draw parallels this week over police actions.

Green party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands, asked in the House of Commons Monday why there was “never any shortage of well-equipped RCMP officers to arrest Indigenous non-violent protesters against pipelines in British Columbia, but no one to protect the Indigenous catch in a warehouse in Nova Scotia?”

On Twitter, former MP Romeo Saganash said: “Why is it that the TMX pipeline route is being afforded an ongoing protection by the RCMP, but the Mi’kmaq are not afforded the same protection for exercising a constitutionally protected treaty right?”

Former justice minister and Independent MP for Vancouver Granville, Jody Wilson-Raybould, said on CBC Radio on Tuesday that Mi’kmaq need to be involved in decision-making and co-operative management around the fishery.

“This is the work that’s long past due, and the federal government has a responsibility to do something about it,” she said.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Indigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Tabor Home records 8 deaths and 124 COVID-19 cases

63 per cent of residents at Abbotsford long-term-care facility have tested positive

Elementary teacher Jo-Ann Lindahl poses with her students following an outdoor ‘closing circle’ in which they discussed what they had learned that day. (Image submitted)
Mission elementary teacher to receive national Indigenous educator award

Jo-Ann Lindahl named a 2020 Guiding the Journey: Educator Award recipient

Google Maps screenshot taken at 7:06 a.m.
Early-morning crash on Highway 1 has morning commuters in gridlock

Westbound crash occurred in Langley, west of 264th Street; left lane blocked

Swoop Airlines. (Contributed)
COVID-19 case reported on Abbotsford-bound flight last week

Affected flight landed in Abbotsford on Nov. 16

Last year’s Realtors Care Blanket Drive collected 192 bags of warm clothing and blankets for the Abbotsford-Mission area. The 2020 version is collecting only cash donations. (File photo)
Annual Realtors Care Blanket Drive adapts to pandemic

Campaign across the Fraser Valley asks only for cash donations in 2020

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

Product Care offers more than <a href="http://link.mediaoutreach.meltwater.com/ls/click?upn=pDYyTceU0YgTDdsd92GohdQJsmSiPFEkcB4MdMM0Qkoqb1aJA-2By5aWklKJXV6QRdyTteNjr2FccUOVLUe4t5Zw-3D-3D1ds-_KVyBcpjXADXifSWVpM8nQcAzSm9-2B6fEFnjVrTsOcu31irDHDxi5k0QTOIWCqMXUxaNbrf0yRzXSSpROCkfx3NkUtbr65Dkcw1J0by-2F-2BDdDiJGbcfhtjHWYSs66NwakeCCLYkj20e9ICIZsLcedqNZKBhsN0sGgBsInpdzsddYikUZkmQvFdxLJhakpgAA6aAJ5ScUoWR6vO9sM819vRB-2F6x7dsdfIaWa4ZgHxR4G7hauxgSJCsNI2bP5J62EFfM0aiDqRPwUPUjt7i5-2FMqpdJxrEBewnLky-2B3lE0JAmi5UsJBkJejuLOjsndZz4b7dNgbvt6KyewKuF0sxU2rpYgkAO9YAKc9STuFJd28Qn7jE0-2FqlB8HKOvpW150NHS-2BOMBcK5rkZ8YAuPqJy11k-2BgndiKB-2FWl2icAfbWtRGJPb8fM-3D" target="_blank">150 free drop-off locations</a> in B.C. (Pixabay.com)
Recycling broken or burnt string lights can reduce holiday landfill waste

In 2019, Product Care Recycling diverted more than 11.6 million light bulbs from landfills

Helen Watson, posing for a photo for her 100th birthday, turned 105 on Saturday (Nov. 21). (File photo)
B.C. woman who survived Spanish Flu turns 105

Helen Watson has packed a lot into life – including being in two pandemics

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. to test emergency alert system on cell phones, TVs, radios on Wednesday

The alert is part of a twice yearly test of the national Alert Ready system

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Phillip Tallio was just 17 when he was convicted of murder in 1983 (file photo)
Miscarriage of justice before B.C. teen’s 1983 guilty plea in girl’s murder: lawyer

Tallio was 17 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 22-month-old cousin

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
41 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Most Read