Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller today called this week’s raid on fishing facilities in southwest Nova Scotia an “assault” on the Mi’kmaw people and urged police in the region to keep the peace.
His comments came as tensions mount over the First Nations lobster harvest in southwestern Nova Scotia. On Tuesday night, several hundred commercial fishermen and their supporters raided two facilities where Mi’kmaw fishermen were storing their catches.
By morning, a van had been set ablaze, hundreds of dead lobsters were strewn over the ground and one facility had been damaged.
“I cannot end this conference … without addressing the incidents in southwestern Nova Scotia in what amounts to an assault on the Mi’kmaw people,” Miller told a news conference in Ottawa today.
“These unacceptable acts of violence, including the assault on [Sipekne’katik Chief Mike] Sack with threats and intimidation, some racist in nature, cannot and will not fetter the right of the people to pursue a moderate livelihood.”
Watch: Tensions over N.S. Mi’kmaq lobster fishery escalate
Miller called for calm while talks at the federal level continue.
“To protect that right, space needs to be afforded to Indigenous leaders to continue discussions with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and [federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan]. And they are not easy discussions, but they must be had and they must be respected,” he said.
“To do so, clearly, our police forces must … maintain the peace.”
The fact that no arrests have been made so far in connection with the two raids is prompting questions about the RCMP’s response.
Nova Scotia RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Joyce said no arrests had been made as of Wednesday afternoon — but added that officers did witness criminal activity and investigative teams were being assembled.
‘Protect us,’ says chief
Sack said the federal government and the RCMP are letting down the community.
“The prime minister, any minister, whoever put a tweet out or Facebook message, whatever it may be — actions speak louder than words,” he said Thursday.
“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.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said on Wednesday that it’s time for the RCMP and federal and provincial governments to step in “before someone gets badly injured or possibly killed.”
The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs also called for immediate action.
“Lives are being put at risk,” Chief Terrance Paul, co-chair and fisheries lead for the Assembly, said in a media release.
Watch | Video shows piles of lobster strewn over the ground outside N.S. lobster pound
“The inactions of the government and RCMP are only providing for more opportunities for people to be injured, or possibly worse.”
Miller said he has seen only the videos circulating online, but what he saw alarmed him.
“The first job of the police is to serve, protect and to preserve the peace,” he said. “People need to be protected … this is the duty of the police.”
Premier calls on Ottawa to define ‘moderate livelihood’
The province’s southwest has endured weeks of unrest following the launch of a lobster fishery by the Sipekne’katik band outside the federally mandated commercial season.
The band has justified its fishery by citing a 21-year-old Supreme Court of Canada ruling known as the Marshall decision, which affirmed the Mi’kmaw right to operate a “moderate livelihood” fishery.
The court later said the federal government could regulate the Mi’kmaw fishery but must justify any restrictions it placed on it.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil called on the federal government to better define what a “moderate livelihood” means.
“No matter how much I want to resolve this issue, I don’t have any authority to do so. That is why it’s critical for the national government to be there,” he said during his own press conference Thursday morning.
“And it’s why, in my humble opinion, the chiefs need to focus on the national government. And bring the national government to the table and deal with both sides.”