Police say a man is in hospital following the massive fire that completely destroyed a lobster pound being used by Mi’kmaq fishermen in Middle West Pubnico, N.S.
According to Yarmouth County RCMP, fire departments responded to a building fire at a fish plant around midnight.
“The fish plant incurred significant damage, it was not occupied at the time and no employees were injured,” the RCMP said in a press release.
However, police said a man is in hospital with life-threatening injuries believed related to the fire, but did not say who the man was and how he got injured.
An RCMP officer told Global News the man is considered a person of interest in the case.
Police said 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.
Tuesday’s incident was the latest in continuing tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia, with the 1999 Marshall decision standing at the centre of the lobster fishing dispute.
The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed a treaty right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a moderate living, something that comes out of the Peace and Friendship treaties of 1760 and 1760.
However, 21 years after the decision was made, and hundreds of years after the Peace and Friendship treaties were established, Mi’kmaq fishers say they are continuing to face roadblocks and barriers in exercising their right to fish in pursuit of a moderate living.
Debris and sparks from the fire flew over people’s houses, says Pierrette d’Entremont, a resident of the area who could see the fire from her home.
“As soon as I saw how big the fire was. I was scared. I have two kids and … I mean, our house is quite far back from the road, but our neighbour in front and the neighbour right next to it are close to the fire,” she says.
“I’m worried about even more violence where there should be a complete stop, in my opinion. The situation’s just too volatile and there are just too many balls in the air,” said d’Entremont.
The RCMP said the investigation has determined the fire to be suspicious and the investigation is ongoing.
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.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Sack said the military needs to be called in to keep the peace.
The fire was started the same night a man was charged with assaulting Sack in New Edinburgh, N.S.
“This was retaliation,” Sack said. “We’re being targeted now. These are hate crimes.”
According to Sack, the lobster 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.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he has approved a request by Nova Scotia’s Attorney General to step up the RCMP presence in the region.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen MacNeil said he’s “deeply concerned about the acts of intimidation (and) violence that have taken place in southwest N.S.”
He said the province and the federal government were working on finding a facilitator to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous lobster harvesters together in discussion.
“The way to resolve this issue is through respectful dialogue,” he said.
He also called on Ottawa to define what constitutes legal harvesting under a moderate livelihood fishery.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston also called on federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan to clearly define what “moderate livelihood” means.
“The violence and destruction has to stop. The escalation of events over the last week is indefensible. Everyone is incredibly frustrated that the government leadership is failing. We cannot and do not condone the events that have taken place,” he said in a statement.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said she spoke with Sack following the fire.
“We share the urgent priority for the safety of his community,” she tweeted. “Canadians are appalled at this assault on the Mi’kmaq people.”
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he has contacted the RCMP and the federal government to express deep concern on behalf of First Nations.
“I demand a full and thorough investigation by the proper authorities,” he said in a tweet.
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore condemned the recent intimidation and violence against Mi’kmaq fishers and called for accountability for those responsible.
“We must not, and we will not, let these violent acts deter us from continuing down the path of reconciliation,” the Liberal MP said in a statement.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the incident “terrorism” and called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to step in.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said the government is not doing enough to ensure public safety and find a peaceful resolution to the fisheries crisis.
He said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “cannot abdicate responsibility in this case or hide behind empty words.”
“His government’s dismal handling of this situation and his lack of leadership are undoing decades of relationship building … and putting lives and livelihoods at risk,” O’Toole said in a statement.
Anyone with information on the fire is asked to contact Yarmouth District RCMP at 902-742-9106 or Nova Scotia Crime Stoppers.
-With files from The Canadian Press and Global’s Alicia Draus, Alexander Quon and Kerri Breen