Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller responds to a question during a news conference, Thursday, October 8, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller responds to a question during a news conference, Thursday, October 8, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

RCMP have ‘let down’ Indigenous fishers facing violence in Nova Scotia: minister

Comments come after lobster pound was burned, police accused one person of assaulting a Mi’kmaq leader

The RCMP in Nova Scotia have failed to properly protect Indigenous people embroiled in an ugly dispute over lobster fishing, Canada’s Indigenous services minister said Monday.

Marc Miller was one of four federal cabinet ministers who took part in a news conference that followed a turbulent weekend in the southwestern corner of the province, where a lobster pound was burned to the ground and police accused one person of assaulting a Mi’kmaq leader and another of setting fire to a van owned by an Indigenous fisherman.

“Indigenous people have been let down by the police, those who are sworn to protect them,” Miller said as he opened the news conference in Ottawa. “The protection of people on both sides has to prevail, and clearly that has not been the case up until now.”

Miller said even though Indigenous people have experienced discrimination throughout Canada’s history, the Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia have stood up for their rights without resorting to violence.

“It is a testament to who they are that they do so peacefully,” Miller said. But he said he fears the violence could lead to loss of life, adding, “We must reach a resolution.”

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the Mounties are doing their job. “The police are, in fact, acting,” he said. “I’m absolutely confident that the RCMP know their job.”

Blair said additional officers had been deployed to respond to the increasingly violent dispute, which started Sept. 17 when the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched a self-regulated commercial fishery outside of the federally designated fishing season.

The public safety minister said Nova Scotia RCMP are now able to draw on RCMP resources from other provinces within the Atlantic region to counter “reckless violence and racist threats.” And he said an RCMP boat was in the area, along with a vessel from the Canadian Coast Guard.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office issued a statement Monday saying he had spoken with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil on Sunday, and they “condemned the appalling violence” and agreed that respectful dialogue was key to resolving the dispute.

The lobster dispute is a sensitive issue for the Trudeau government, which has made reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people a top priority.

The decision to dispatch more officers to Nova Scotia follows complaints from Indigenous leaders who have pointed to images on social media that appear to show Mounties standing by while protesters vandalized property and allegedly assaulted Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack last week.

Sack could not be reached for comment Monday.

Miller made it clear that Ottawa will be taking action to ensure the Mi’kmaq can exercise their constitutionally protected treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing.

“The acts of violence we have seen in the past days and weeks are disgusting, unacceptable and racist in nature,” he said.

Miller also stressed that the new Indigenous fishery represents a tiny fraction of the traditional lobster fishery in St. Marys Bay, where the Sipekne’katik First Nation is now fishing.

The Sipekne’katik band has awarded 11 lobster fishing licences to 11 boats working in St. Marys Bay, each with a maximum of 50 traps aboard. By contrast, the commercial fishery in the bay allows for 90 vessels carrying up 400 traps each. That total includes three commercial vessels operated by the Sipekne’katik band.

In recent weeks, some non-Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia have staged protests to highlight the fact that even though the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed the treaty right to fish, hunt and gather for a moderate livelihood, the court also said Ottawa retains the right to regulate the fisheries for conservation purposes.

They say Indigenous fishers should not be allowed to fish outside the the federally regulated season because that could harm lobster stocks.

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, who represents a rural fishing community in Nova Scotia, said conservation “underpins everything we do,” adding that the lobster stocks in Nova Scotia remain healthy.

“We will never move forward with a plan that threatens the health of the species,” she said.

Jordan did not answer when asked if the treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood extended to fishing outside the regular season.

When the dispute erupted in September, Jordan made it clear that Ottawa was opposed to fishing outside the season.

As for the definition of what constitutes a moderate livelihood, Jordan said that must be determined by negotiations with each First Nation. She said a blanket definition was not an option. “It’s a very complex issue and it varies between communities,” she said. “We can’t tell First Nations what a moderate livelihood is.”

Jordan also confirmed that a “ministerial representative” would soon be named to facilitate discussions with non-Indigenous commercial fishermen.

In Ottawa, NDP critic Charlie Angus also took aim at the RCMP. “What’s really disturbing is the lack of action by the RCMP,” he told a news conference. “The federal government needs to send a clear message that we have to be willing to protect Indigenous treaty rights.”

On another front, Blair confirmed that the suspect accused of assaulting Chief Sack on Oct. 14 had been released from custody with conditions.

Sack has criticized the RCMP for being “useless” in the face of violence. And on the weekend he called on Ottawa to send in the military to keep the peace.

Blair dismissed that request Monday, saying the incidents in Nova Scotia require a police response, not a military operation.

“It is a peacekeeping operation and it is the responsibility of the police,” he said.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

fishingIndigenous

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

Just Posted

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Feb. 28

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Alina Durham, mother of Shaelene Bell, lights candles on behalf of Bell’s two sons during a vigil on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO and PHOTOS: Candlelight vigil for Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack sends message of hope

Small group of family, friends gathered to shine light for 23-year-old mother missing for four weeks

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)
Truck driver charged in Coquihalla crash showed ‘wanton and reckless disregard for other people’s lives’: Crown

Despite already having brake issues, Roy McCormack tackled the steepest hill on the infamous highway

Abbotsford International Airport. Black Press file photo.
Abbotsford Airport had 4th highest traffic in Canada in 2020, and its number are down

Statistics Canada report describes a ‘devastating year’ for air travel

(Black Press - file photo)
WEATHER: Enjoy the sun today, prepare for a week of rain

Clouds and rain to arrive by evening, Environment Canada forecasts

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Approximate location of the vehicle incident. (Google Maps)
Vehicle incident blocking Coquihalla traffic in both directions

Both directions of traffic stopped due to vehicle incident

Judith Uwamahoro is Black, approximately 4’7″ tall, 80 pounds and has short black hair and brown eyes. (Surrey RCMP handout)
UPDATED: Lower Mainland 9-year-old located after police make public plea

Judith Uwamahoro went missing Friday at around 4 p.m. in Surrey

Five-year-old Nancy Murphy wears a full mask and face shield as she waits in line for her kindergarten class to enter school during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Variant of concern linked to COVID-19 outbreak at three Surrey schools

Cases appear to be linked to community transmissions, but schools will remain open

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Most Read