Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port as the lobster season on Nova Scotia’s South Shore begins, in West Dover, N.S., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port as the lobster season on Nova Scotia’s South Shore begins, in West Dover, N.S., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Parallels drawn between police action over B.C. pipeline fights, Mi’kmaq fishers

Then there was the RCMP’s raid on Wet’suwet’en Nation territory in February

By Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

The RCMP’s failure to protect Mi’kmaq fishers from intimidation, assault and destruction in Nova Scotia demonstrates how the Canadian state is all too ready to permit or perpetrate violence against Indigenous Peoples, say First Nations groups and B.C. politicians.

On the one hand, police have been quick to arrest Indigenous leaders when they might threaten the interests of fossil fuel companies, as in the case of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX), where RCMP arrested a Secwepemc hereditary chief and others last week to clear a path for the pipeline’s construction.

Then there was the RCMP’s raid on Wet’suwet’en Nation territory in February, to clear the route for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, where officers pointed their guns, destroyed a gate, extinguished a sacred fire and arrested people, including several matriarchs, loading them into police vans and cuffing them with zip ties.

In the cases concerning the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines, the RCMP were enforcing court injunctions allowing safe access to work areas.

On the other hand, RCMP have been criticized as slow to act as an angry mob descended upon a lobster pound in West Pubnico, N.S., kicking doors and pelting the building with rocks.

“The RCMP just stood there,” one lobster fisher with the Sipekne’katik First Nation told the Toronto Star.

In addition to the lobster pound attack, a vehicle has been set ablaze, lobster traps have been pulled out of the ocean and the chief of Sipekne’katik First Nation, Michael Sack, was assaulted.

“I definitely see parallels, with the state allowing violence to happen to Indigenous people,” said Molly Wickham, spokeswoman for the Gidimt’en camp of Wet’suwet’en Nation members.

“In our case it was the government allowing RCMP to come in and bring violence into our communities,” Wickham said. “The actions of RCMP show citizens what they are allowed to do to Indigenous people.”

The Mi’kmaq’s treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood has also been affirmed by the Supreme Court, and the Sipekne’katik First Nation was exercising its constitutionally protected rights when it opened a self-regulated lobster fishery in September.

Despite this, “little action has been taken to prosecute the criminal behaviour of those inciting hatred and terror and who have created an environment of lawlessness and violence,” the BC Assembly of First Nations said on Oct. 18.

The RCMP failed to uphold the Constitution and the honour of the Crown in Mi’kmaq territory, argued the assembly. They said the turn of events threatens to “unravel” decades of work towards reconciliation, meaningful dialogue and respect for rights, title and First Nations’ jurisdictions.

“As Canadians witness events unfold in the Atlantic lobster fishery dispute it has become even more apparent that the standard of justice and law enforcement in Canada are deeply flawed and corrupted by systemic racism,” it said.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Monday during a press conference in Ottawa that the acts of violence in Nova Scotia were “disgusting, unacceptable and racist in nature.”

The situation demonstrated that, “once again … Indigenous people have been let down by the police, those who are sworn to protect them,” he said.

“Throughout history, Indigenous Peoples have experienced continuous discrimination and to this day still suffer the consequences of colonial practices. But they have shown an extreme resilience and courage in standing up for their rights.”

The federal government has said it strongly condemns the violence that has taken place and that officials want “respectful dialogue” concerning Mi’kmaq treaty rights. Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan has said negotiations are ongoing and that she will continue to work with the Mi’kmaq.

Blair’s cabinet colleague, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, stood up for the force’s efforts in Nova Scotia during the same press conference. Asked directly if he agreed that police were failing the Mi’kmaq, he said the police “have a responsibility to protect all Canadians” as well as uphold Indigenous rights.

“I believe the vast majority of officers do their best to serve those communities with professionalism and with integrity and respect but clearly there are concerns within the communities that we are working hard to address,” said Blair.

Many of the RCMP officers deployed in the area are Indigenous themselves, the minister noted, and grew up in the communities in which they serve.

“I think it’s important that cultural competency and understanding of not just the long history, but the cultural concerns and the very legitimate concerns of Indigenous people on how the police serve and protect them and uphold and respect Indigenous rights is critical to that work,” he said.

The Nova Scotia RCMP says it is taking steps to ensure “those who unlawfully interfere with or threaten the safety of any person or property may be held accountable in accordance with the laws of Canada.” The police have laid charges in relation to Sack’s assault and also laid charges in relation to the vehicle fire.

RCMP “has a significant presence” in the area where the vehicle fire occured, said the force, “including general duty officers from several local detachments officers from across the division and RCMP in Prince Edward Island with specialized training in de-escalation and crowd control.”

The police’s “division liaison team” was also fully engaged in the area, they said, “continuing their work to build and maintain relationships among those involved.” An RCMP spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.

Sack, however, cast doubt on the RCMP’s ability to control the situation, saying he’d prefer the military step in, and calling the RCMP “useless.”

Blair said he appreciated Sack’s comments and shared concern over the violence but noted that it wasn’t a military operation, it was a “peacekeeping operation” and was the responsibility of the police of jurisdiction in the area — in this case, the RCMP.

“We have taken steps necessary to ensure that they have adequate resources to do the job,” he said.

The minister also said one of the best ways to prevent further criminality and violence is to hold people to account when crimes have been committed.

“I want to assure Canadians that the RCMP know that they have a responsibility to maintain the peace. When crimes are committed, people are to be charged and held to account. Those investigations are ongoing. Those court cases will proceed,” he said.

Still, current and former Parliamentarians continued to raise questions and draw parallels this week over police actions.

Green party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands, asked in the House of Commons Monday why there was “never any shortage of well-equipped RCMP officers to arrest Indigenous non-violent protesters against pipelines in British Columbia, but no one to protect the Indigenous catch in a warehouse in Nova Scotia?”

On Twitter, former MP Romeo Saganash said: “Why is it that the TMX pipeline route is being afforded an ongoing protection by the RCMP, but the Mi’kmaq are not afforded the same protection for exercising a constitutionally protected treaty right?”

Former justice minister and Independent MP for Vancouver Granville, Jody Wilson-Raybould, said on CBC Radio on Tuesday that Mi’kmaq need to be involved in decision-making and co-operative management around the fishery.

“This is the work that’s long past due, and the federal government has a responsibility to do something about it,” she said.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Indigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Albert de Villiers, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
‘People need to start listening’: IH top doc combats COVID-19 misconceptions

Dr. Albert de Villiers says light at the end of the tunnel will grow in step with people’s adherence to PHO guidance

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

Bootleg Gap Golf Course has been sold to Simkins Golf Management Inc. for $3 million.
Bootleg Gap Golf Course sold to Simkins Golf Management for $3 million

After the decision was made to sell back in October 2019, Council… Continue reading

Robyn Ostlund wants to get people moving in December and also raise money for the Food Bank. Photo submitted
Fundraiser for Kimberley Food Bank keeps you moving

Last year, Robyn Ostlund of Kimberley organized a fundraiser to assist the… Continue reading

Stock photo courtesy Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca.
Double-murder trial in case of Cranbrook couple killed adjourned until January

A trial has been adjourned until January for two men charged with… Continue reading

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Good Samaritan Mountainview Village located at 1540 KLO Road in Kelowna. (Good Samaritan Society)
First long-term care resident dies from COVID-19 in Interior Health

Man in his 80s dies following virus outbreak at Mountainview Village

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

Amanda Weber-Roy, conservation specialist for BC Parks in the Kootenays. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
VIDEO: Kootenay youth climate group works to protect Nelson’s water supply

Youth Climate Corps members spent five weeks thinning forest in West Arm Park

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

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

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Most Read