Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has greenlighted a request for additional RCMP support in Nova Scotia amid criticism that Ottawa has not done enough to protect community members embroiled in a bitter conflict over a First Nations lobster harvest in that province.
“Policing in Nova Scotia is within provincial jurisdiction,” Blair said in a statement released Saturday. “I have now approved a request from Nova Scotia’s attorney general to enhance the presence of contracted RCMP resources as needed in that jurisdiction in order to keep the peace.”
The minister’s office told CBC News that the request was approved on Friday and that the number of officers sent to the region will be determined by the province and its RCMP.
The announcement comes after a fire levelled a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., on Saturday morning.
Nova Scotia RCMP have deemed the blaze suspicious and said a man is in hospital with life-threatening injuries. Spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Joyce told CBC News that the injured individual is an “adult male who is considered a person of interest.”
The fire broke out at one of two facilities in the province’s southwest region that were targeted by commercial fishermen on Tuesday protesting the “moderate livelihood” fishery launched by Sipekne’katik First Nation last month.
The fishery is operating outside the federally mandated commercial season, causing many commercial lobster fishermen to worry about its impact on lobster conservation.
The Mi’kmaw, who were storing their catches at the facilities, say they are exercising their treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, a right affirmed by a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
Sipekne’katik chief: ‘Maybe it’s time for the military’
Before the announcement, Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack called on Ottawa to beef up the number of officers in the area.
“We’re not told numbers in general, but very understaffed. Like, 300 commercial fishermen on the wharf, 40 or 50 of us [and] 12 officers,” Sack said during a news conference on Saturday. “Maybe it’s time for the military to come in and assist.”
Sack has been increasingly critical of the federal government’s failure to intervene in the conflict.
“You know, they’re sitting in their office, safe as can be, saying we need safety out here. Send enforcement down. Like, do your job. Protect Canadians. We’re all Canadians. Come here, protect us and don’t just tweet about it,” he said Thursday.
Blair said that Nova Scotia RCMP had “increased their police presence in the affected area each day.”
“Officers remain on scene and have assembled investigative teams to actively gather evidence to support any additional criminal charges necessary,” his statement read. “More details will be released by the Nova Scotia RCMP and provincial authorities as they become available.”