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

Spectators won’t be able to enjoy Quesnel Kangaroos action like captain Alessio Tomassetti scoring a goal until at least September of 2021. (Sasha Sefter - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Quesnel Kangaroos’ CIHL championship defence on hold

The CIHL has canceled its 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 restrictions

Quesnel council has committed to considering signing on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to developing and adopting an anti-racism strategy for the city and to conducting anti-racism sensitivity training and improving the knowledge of staff and council regarding local Indigenous culture and history. (City of Quesnel Photo)
Quesnel council commits to developing, adopting anti-racism strategy

Council will also consider signing onto the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Quesnel Search and Rescue has found a missing snowmobiler on Yanks Peak, near Wells. They are being assisted by the Wells RCMP, Wells Snowmobile Club and Central Cariboo and Prince George search and rescue teams. (Quesnel Search and Rescue)
Search and rescue crews locate missing sledder near Wells

Mike Harbek spent the night on Yanks Peak and was located by helicopter Monday afternoon

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: snowmobiler rescued, 1 still missing near Wells

As Quesnel search and rescue teams investigate Yanks Peak, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Quesnel Search and Rescue are looking for a missing snowmobiler on Yanks Peak Monday, Nov. 23. They are being assisted by the Wells RCMP, Wells Snowmobile Club and neighbouring search and rescue teams. (Quesnel Search and Rescue)
Search underway for missing snowmobiler out of Wells, Yanks Peak area

Two riders went missing while sledding on Yanks Peak Nov. 22. One is still missing.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

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

Beaver Creek RCMP Cpl. Robert Drapeau, left to right, Gary Bath, Lynn Marchessault, Payton Marchessault, Rebecca Marchessault and Tim Marchessault pose in this recent handout photo near the Canada-U.S. border crossing near Beaver Creek, Yukon. A family reunion trip for the woman from Georgia that left them stranded ended on a bright note when Bath drove them to the Alaskan border following an appeal for help. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Gary Bath *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Help from B.C. man allows American family to reunite in Alaska

Lynn Marchessault drove from Georgia to the Alaska border to join her husband, who serves in U.S. military

(Pixabay.com)
Man, 28, warned by Kootenay police to stop asking people to marry him

A woman initially reported the incident to police before they discovered others had been popped the question

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Winston Blackmore (left) and James Oler (right) were sentenced on separate charges of polygamy this week in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
No more charges expected in Bountiful investigation, special prosecutor says

Special prosecutor says mandate has ended following review of evidence from Bountiful investigations

BC Teachers' Federation President Teri Mooring is asking parents of school-aged children to encourage the wearing of masks when possible in schools. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
LETTER: Teachers union encourages culture of mask wearing in B.C. schools

BCTF President Teri Mooring asks parents to talk with children about wearing masks in school

Pamela Wright, a UNBC professor in the department of ecosystem science and management, is presented with the Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership - Professor, at a virtual ceremony today (Nov. 24) in recognition of her collaborative work with community partners and students to conserve Canada’s northern lands. (Photo submitted by Mitacs)
UNBC professor receives prestigious conservation award

Pamela Wright recognized for leadership in ‘breakthrough’ work on northern issues

Most Read