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

Multiple people were injured at a Vernon home following an early-morning break-in Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Black Press file photo)
Multiple people left injured following break-and-enter in Vernon

Police believe the early-morning break-in was targeted and not a threat to the general public

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

A Coldstream resident who found an owl struggling on her property in March 2021 is now spreading awareness of about the knock-on effects of rodent poisoning. (Kathy Renaud photo)
Coldstream owl ‘fighting for her life’ after ingesting rat poison

Coldstream resident warns against the use of rodenticide due to risk of secondary poisoning in raptors

Vernon residents can breathe a little easier now that a dust advisory has ended in the area. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Dust advisory lifted in Vernon

Changing meteorological conditions have improved regional air quality

The City of Vernon is looking for input into its Climate Action Plan. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernon voices wanted on climate action plan

Community engagement sought on city plan

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kelowna General Hospital

One patient and one staff member on Unit have tested positive for the virus.

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Fire ripped through a mobile home on Boucherie Road in West Kelowna on March. 6. (Phil McLachlan - West Kelowna News)
‘My whole life just went up in smoke’; Fire consumes Okanagan mobile home

RCMP confirmed that there were no injuries due to the fire

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Most Read