By Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press on October 14, 2020.
HALIFAX – An angry crowd of non-Indigenous people surrounded and damaged lobster pounds holding the catch of a Mi’kmaq First Nation on Tuesday night as tensions rose over the fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia.
RCMP confirmed in a news release Wednesday that about 200 people were present at two incidents outside lobster facilities in southwestern Nova Scotia, during which employees were prevented from leaving, rocks were thrown and a vehicle was set on fire.
Chief Mike Sack of Sipekne’katik First Nation told a news conference that a location damaged in New Edinburgh, N.S., belonged to a licensed lobster buyer who had agreed to sell the Indigenous catch harvested by the Sipekne’katik boats.
According to the chief, the people who came to the facility removed and damaged video cameras first and “ransacked the approved buyer’s lobster pound and storage facility where the communal catch was to be housed.”
Police were notified immediately but the commercial fishers remained on the scene “to continue their intimidation tactics,” the chief said of the incident in the coastal community, which is about 70 kilometres north of Yarmouth.
RCMP say the incident in New Edinburgh began at about 4 p.m. Tuesday, and five hours later they received calls about the second incident in Middle West Pubnico, which is more than 100 kilometres away from New Edinburgh.
Photos posted on Facebook also show lobster strewn about the Middle West Pubnico facility and a sign saying, “Chief Sacks management plan.”
The RCMP said in the release they were advised that the large group was preventing employees from leaving the lobster processing facility.
“Upon arrival, officers observed approximately 200 people in the area and worked to de-escalate the situation and disperse the group. Unfortunately events escalated,” resulting in further damage, the police said.
Jason Marr, a fisher from Sipekne’katik, said he and another Indigenous lobster fisherman were trapped inside the Middle West Pubnico facility after he arrived to store his lobster.
He said the non-Indigenous “mob” threw stones at the facility, broke windows and damaged his van. Marr said that when RCMP arrived, they wanted him to leave the building, but he declined.
“Somebody followed me to the place in Pubnico, and I wasn’t there for three minutes before 200 guys showed up,” he said in a telephone interview.
“They threw rocks and smashed every window. They said, “˜If you don’t come out we’re going burn you out.’ I watched them pour stuff in my gas tank and my van, slash the tires, cut wires, they pissed all inside of it,” he said.
Marr said he and another fisher from Sipekne’katik, had all of their catch in the facility and did not want to leave it unprotected.
He said he finally left at 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, after all of the lobster he and the other fisherman had caught — more than 3,400 pounds — had been taken out and destroyed by the crowd.
At his news conference, Sack said he wanted a heavier police presence to protect his fishers.
“Last night I was afraid somebody would die,” he said. “Police aren’t doing their job well at the moment.”
The Indigenous fishers are conducting a fishery outside of the federally regulated season based on a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled East Coast Indigenous groups have the right to fish for a “moderate livelihood,” though a second ruling stated this was subject to federal regulation.
Since the Mi’kmaq fishery opened last month, there have been tensions on and off the water, with traps hauled from the sea by non-Indigenous harvesters and a boat belonging to a Mi’kmaq fisherman burned at a wharf.
Sack says he has contacted federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan about the growing strife as well as the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
The chief says the latest incidents began to unfold Tuesday as he was meeting with the 11 lobster harvesters his band has licensed for a moderate livelihood fishery in St. Marys Bay. Each of their boats uses about 50 traps in the inshore fishery, while commercial Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers who operate beginning in late November use between 375 and 400 traps.
Sack said the fishery will continue, despite the tensions and intimidation. He is asking his people not to react to the incidents and to avoid violence as they await a stronger police presence.
“I am asking people to take the high road,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14,2020.