The chief of the Sipekne’katik First Nation says they have no plans to end a self-regulated lobster fishery in Nova Scotia despite opposition from non-Indigenous commercial fishers that erupted in threats and violence this week.
“It doesn’t matter what they do, they won’t stop us,” Chief Michael Sack said at a press conference in Digby, N.S., on Thursday.
Sack’s comments came two days after angry mobs damaged two facilities that handle lobster catches and a day after he himself was shoved at a standoff between Indigenous fishers and non-Indigenous commercial fishers.
At the press conference, Sack announced he has sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to provide more law enforcement to southwestern Nova Scotia.
The letter, a copy of which was provided to media, is headlined “Re: Acts of terrorism towards Sipekne’katic.”
“Members of my community, including myself, have been physically assaulted, harassed, intimidated and are victims of racism and violence by a mob of vigilantes that have sought to prevent the Rule of Law from operating as we exercise our Constitutionally enshrined Treaty right,” reads the letter.
The letter calls on the Trudeau to uphold Canada’s laws and ensure that vigilantes are prosecuted while saying the RCMP’s “inaction is encouraging these terrorist acts by vigilantes that feel they have free reign.”
Sack also announced that the Sipekne’katik First Nation plans to file civil lawsuits against any individuals, organizations or businesses that have infringed or attempted to prevent its members from exercising their treaty rights.
He said that lawyers hired by the Sipekne’katik are drawing up papers and they will be filed once they are ready.
The visibly frustrated chief lambasted Trudeau and Bernadette Jordan, minister of fisheries and oceans, for tweeting about the violence his people have suffered instead of taking action.
“Does Trudeau care about our people? Does he care about Indigenous people? He’s talked about it but I don’t see any action,” said Sack.
Violent opposition to Indigenous fishery
Tuesday saw two lobster facilities, one in New Edinburgh, N.S., and one Middle West Pubnico, N.S., swarmed and vandalized by crowds estimated to be as high as 200 people.
At the facility in New Edinburgh, the crowd removed and damaged video cameras then ransacked the lobster pound and storage facility where the lobster catch was to be housed.
Later that night, the same occurred at a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico.
Mi’kmaw fisherman Jason Marr and others were forced to take cover inside the lobster pound as the building’s windows were smashed out and Marr’s vehicle was damaged.
“They vandalized (my van) and they were peeing on it. Pouring things into the fuel tank, cutting electrical wires, smashed the windows… kicking and punching and hitting it with objects,” Marr told Global News by phone on Wednesday.
Marr says the non-Indigenous men threatened to “burn” his group out of the building if they didn’t leave and allow them to seize the lobster.
“I thought they were gonna kill me,” the Mi’kmaw fisherman said.
Eventually, the group was forced to leave. The non-Indigenous fishermen destroyed his catch, which he estimated was probably worth $40,000.
In both cases, as well as on Wednesday, RCMP are alleged to have taken long periods of time to respond and stood by or only intervened when physical harm was about to occur.
Cpl. Andrew Joyce, a spokesperson for the RCMP in Nova Scotia, pushed back in an interview on Thursday.
He said officers were looking to give a “measured response.”
“At the end of the day our goal is to have everyone go home safely. In this case, we feel we were fortunate that everybody did,” Joyce said.
Although he would not confirm how many RCMP officers responded to the calls, he said it was “safe to say it was a lot less than 200.”
Following a cabinet meeting Thursday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the province would provide police with the “resources necessary,” including manpower to ensure public safety in the area. “If more people are required, we obviously would have to pick up that bill,” he said.
McNeil also said he was “extremely disappointed” by the federal response to date around the Indigenous lobster fishery. He said Ottawa needs to find a workable solution by sitting down with all sides in the dispute as soon as possible. “This is only getting more entrenched . . . they need to be in the same room so everyone knows what each other is saying.”
Provincial Justice Minister Mark Furey said he was satisfied with the RCMP response, adding that he thought it’s been a “measured approach” under difficult circumstances.
Do what’s necessary
On Thursday Sack reiterated that was not good enough.
He said RCMP’s inaction against the crowds of 200 non-Indigenous fishers on Tuesday made it appear like anyone who gathered a large enough group of people together would be able to do anything they wanted.
“The wilful inaction by our law enforcement in the face of criminal actions against our people, any person is unacceptable,” Sack said, calling on the federal government to send more police officers to assist in the region.
Sack said he has been getting messages asking whether “warriors” from other provinces should come and assist. He said he’s held them off but if his people don’t have protection then they will do what’s necessary.
On Thursday Marc Miller, the federal Indigenous services minister said the incidents earlier in the week were “unacceptable acts of violence” and that “space needs to be afforded to Indigenous leaders” to have discussions with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The non-Indigenous protesters have said they are opposed to a decision by the First Nation to start a commercial lobster fishing business that has operated outside the federally regulated lobster season since mid-September.
But the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision has affirmed treaty rights to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood,” although it allows Ottawa to set regulations in consultation with Indigenous communities and for the purpose of conservation.
The incidents on Tuesday were only the latest in a series of escalating tensions between the two sides.
Last week a boat owned by one of the fishermen operating under the moderate livelihood fishery was set on fire and destroyed.
At the time, RCMP said they were investigating the cause of the fire but had ruled it suspicious.
—With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and Grey Butler, The Canadian Press.