Editor’s Note: The lobster pound in this story was originally described as a Mi’kmaw owned lobster pound. That is incorrect. Global News has removed that reference.
An enormous fire completely destroyed a lobster pound being used by Mi’kmaw fishermen in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., early Saturday morning.
Jonathan LeBlanc, a member of the Eel Brook Fire Department, told Global News that several local fire departments were called to the scene around midnight. It took over four hours to contain the fire, with crews later turning to a cleanup mode.
Reached overnight, Nova Scotia RCMP said they were unaware of the incident. Yarmouth County RCMP said in a statement Saturday morning that the fire is considered “suspicious” and an investigation is ongoing.
The plant was not occupied at the time and none of the employees were injured, RCMP said. According to police, however, one man is in hospital with life-threatening injuries that are believed to be related to the fire.
The lobster pound is the same one that was swarmed, vandalized and ransacked by a large crowd of non-Indigenous commercial fishers and their supporters Tuesday night.
Mi’kmaw fisherman Jason Marr told Global News he 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, he said.
“They vandalized (my van) and they were peeing on it, pouring things into the fuel tank, cutting electrical wires,” Marr said on Wednesday. He also claimed they smashed the windows of the van, and said he saw them kicking, punching and hitting it with objects.
Video taken on Tuesday night and posted on Facebook shows a damaged vehicle at the scene.
Marr alleges the non-Indigenous fishers threatened to “burn” his group out of the building if they didn’t leave and allow them to seize the lobster catch.
“I thought they were gonna kill me,” the Mi’kmaw fisherman said.
A similar incident happened at another lobster pound in New Edinburgh, N.S., earlier Tuesday, where the crowd removed and damaged video cameras then ransacked the lobster pound and storage facility where the lobster catch was to be housed.
Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack released a statement Saturday saying that the fire “illustrates the need for greater police presence in the region… I do believe with the proper police presence, however, this could have been avoided.”
“I am once again calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and the RCMP to dedicate the necessary resources to this region to protect everyone. I am extremely concerned that someone is going to hurt or worse,” Sack added.
According to Sack, the facility is owned by “a friend and ally of Sipeknek’katik, where one of our community members was barricaded and his catch destroyed last week.”
“This should never have happened and the people responsible should be brought to justice.”
Sack said he hopes to try and find some balance with the commercial fishery, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the province and the RCMP.
“I say this with the utmost respect, we have been calling for dialogue and recognition of our rights for years and we appreciate every officer and every minute of their service in what has become a very dangerous environment for so many.”
Mi’kmaq lobster fishers in southwestern Nova Scotia are asserting those rights in defence of the decision to set up licensed lobster fisheries for both feeding their communities and commercial sales in the area outside of the commercial lobster fishing season.
For weeks, non-Indigenous lobster fishers have targeted the Indigenous fishers and fisheries. On Friday, Sack said between 150 and 200 lobster traps were lost after non-Indigenous commercial fishers cut lines and destroyed buoys.
While the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision affirmed treaty rights to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood,” it also allows Ottawa to set regulations in consultation with Indigenous communities and for the purpose of conservation.
The definition of a “moderate livelihood” has not been agreed upon between the Sipekne’katik and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. However, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan and Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said in a statement last month that the Mi’kmaq have a constitutionally protected treaty right to fish under the term.
The Indigenous fishers have called on the RCMP and the federal government to intervene in the dispute, accusing the federal police force of not doing enough to protect the community.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appealed for calm and said violence and harassment are not acceptable.
“This is a situation that is extremely disconcerting,” Trudeau said. “That’s why we’re calling for an end to the violence and harassment that’s happening. … I understand the concerns and the conflict going on right now but we need to find a solution.”
RCMP said in a statement issued earlier in the week they were working to “de-escalate the situation and disperse the group.”
Senators representing Nova Scotia issued a statement Friday condemning the violence and calling on the RCMP to “restore peace and order.” They also called on the federal government to “move rapidly, respectfully and appropriately” to address the Indigenous fishers’ concerns.
—With files from Global’s Alexander Quon, Aya Al-Hakim and Amanda Connolly