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

Princeton council hopes fresh storefronts will compliment the investment already made in the downtown gateways and bronze statue park. (John Moody photo)
New program promises money for Princeton businesses to improve their storefronts

The municipality plans to commit $100,000 over the next five years

Glass of whiskey
UBCO substance use clinic goes virtual

The clinic is adapting the way it provides services as the pandemic continues

Donate generously to Crisis Assistance and the Christmas Hamper campaign. Photo MCC
EDITORIAL: Princeton’s Christmas hamper committee needs CASH in 2020

Don’t hesitate to donate, just because it looks different under COVID

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 70 new cases overnight

The total number of cases in the region is now at 1,426

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

City of Armstrong Public Works Yard. (Google Maps)
Armstrong city staffer threatened in snow removal complaint

Community services manager says ‘veiled threat’ is believed to have been flippant, but is being taken seriously

In mid-July, the home of an Indo-Canadian family in Summerland was vandalized, with images including swastikas spray-painted on the house. Since that time, Summerland Mayor Toni Boot has been calling for community conversations about issues relating to race. (Summerland Review file photo)
Provincial funds available for Summerland conversations about racism

Money will not flow directly from province to municipality

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

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

The Okanagan Quality Life Society which usually gives tours of Okanagan Lake to seniors and shut-ins on its boat Heaven Can Wait has created a virtual tour video in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which shut down the tours in 2020. (Morning Star - file photo)
Okanagan Lake virtual boat tours launched

Okanagan Quality Life Society normally gives tours on Okanagan Lake on its boat Heaven Can Wait

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre is kicking off a Light The Night fundraising campaign online to help with Christmas shopping for the public and fundraising for the popular Vernon attraction. (ABNC Photo)
Light the Night campaign boosts North Okanagan nature centre

Allan Brooks Society hosting online auction of 12 items; donations can also be made to help centre

Police service dog Fitz helped track and rescue a lost hiker and his dog in Kelowna. (Kelowna RCMP)
Okanagan police dog Fitz dies of cancer

Fitz recently helped locate a lost hiker in the Central Okanagan

Resident wants City of Salmon Arm to take action to eradicate rat population in town. (File photo)
Salmon Arm resident demands action to eradicate rats

City posts more information on social media, will consider more action at budget time

Most Read