Blair defends RCMP’s handling of acts of violence in Nova Scotia despite criticism

Click to play video: 'Bill Blair reacts to escalating violence in Nova Scotia'
Bill Blair reacts to escalating violence in Nova Scotia
WATCH: Bill Blair reacts to escalating violence in Nova Scotia – Oct 18, 2020

Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, Bill Blair, is defending the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), as the force receives criticism over its alleged inaction in Nova Scotia.

In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Blair said police have been “on scene right from the outset,” and “in significant numbers.”

“If you look at the actual circumstances, where a few hundred people came into conflict and the officers on the ground, you know, utilized their authorities and their limited resources to try to separate the combatants,” he said.
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“But they also gathered evidence,” he continued. “There were acts of criminality that took place there, and the police have done their job of laying the charges. In large crowd events like that, sometimes it’s very difficult to prevent every altercation and act of violence that can take place.”
“The police — as I said — have got a tough job to do.” 
Click to play video: 'Fire destroys Nova Scotia lobster pound used by Mi’kmaq fishers'
Fire destroys Nova Scotia lobster pound used by Mi’kmaq fishers

Blair’s comments come after multiple acts of violence against Indigenous fisheries in southwestern Nova Scotia were reported.

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A lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., was burned to the ground early Saturday, destroying the lobster catch of Mi’kmaq fishers.

Earlier in the week, two clashes involving hundreds of people took place outside lobster pounds that store Indigenous-caught lobster.

The RCMP have made two arrests in relation to the incidents, with one man charged with assault against Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, and another man charged with arson.

However, the force has received criticism, with several Indigenous leaders and members of the public saying officers stood idly by and allowed the incidents to happen.

Blair, though, said he has “some sympathy” for “how difficult the job of the police is in these circumstances.”
“But I think it’s also critical that they be effective on the ground, that they take every step necessary to prevent acts of violence and criminality, to keep people safe, to preserve the peace while this work is going on.”
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Blair said he was also “concerned” that RCMP officers in the province required more resources.

“I’ve had conversations with the Nova Scotia attorney general who spoke to the police commander, the RCMP commander in Nova Scotia,” he said. “I spoke to the commissioner, [and] we’ve taken the steps necessary to ensure that the resources necessary to keep people safe and to preserve the peace are available on the ground.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called Friday’s fire an act of terror.

“This is terrorism,” he wrote in a tweet on Saturday, “The Mi’kmaq people desperately need help now.”

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The RCMP said Saturday that investigation is ongoing but the fire considered is “suspicious.”

Asked on Sunday if the incident should be classified as an act of terror, Blair stopped short of his NDP colleague, saying it was clear “acts of criminality” have occurred.

“There’s been vandalism, arson, violence and assaults that have taken place,” he said. “And that’s completely unacceptable.”

He said it’s a “very complicated issue,” adding that people are “working very hard” to resolve it “as fairly and quickly as possible.”

In a tweet Saturday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “appalled” by the “acts of violence, intimidation, and destruction taking place in Nova Scotia.”

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“The perpetrators will be held accountable,” he wrote. “We’ve approved a request to provide more support to the @RCMPNS, and we’re focused on keeping people safe.”

Chief Sack told the Canadian Press he is grateful for the additional policing and law enforcement resources.

But he said some of the “damage, destruction, racist behaviour, harassment and intimidation” could have been avoided had repeated requests for a greater police presence been addressed more promptly.

–With files from The Canadian Press

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