The head of the RCMP failed to address complaints about the force’s response to violence against Indigenous lobster fisheries in southwestern Nova Scotia.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Deputy Commissioner Brian Brennan addressed media in Ottawa on Wednesday.
Lucki opened the press conference by saying that she strongly condemns any act of violence
“The RCMP are fully committed to keeping the peace, keeping people safe and enforcing the law,” she said.
Lucki admitted that RCMP officers can’t be in every single location but said that “when we are there and when we are made aware of those actions, we will step in.”
But her opening statement and responses to subsequent questions failed to provide any reason why videos taken at multiple scenes appear to show RCMP officers standing by as Nova Scotia’s Indigenous communities have faced violent and heated opposition from mostly non-Indigenous commercial fishers.
Although the most recent incidents began in mid-September Lucki said that the conflict has been going on for many years and that they have a specific mandate, which is to keep the peace, keep people safe and enforce the law.
Weeks of violence in Nova Scotia
The violence culminated on Oct. 13, with mobs of as many 200 people swarming two lobster pounds in southwestern Nova Scotia.
At a facility in New Edinburgh, N.S., the crowd removed and damaged video cameras then ransacked the lobster pound and storage facility where the lobster catch was to be housed.
A van at the facility was set on fire.
Later that night, the same thing occurred at a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., an Indigenous fisher told Global News.
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, he said.
“They vandalized (my van) and they were peeing on it, pouring things into the fuel tank, cutting electrical wires,” Marr told Global News by phone on Wednesday. He also claimed that they smashed the windows of the van, and said that he saw them kicking, punching and hitting it with objects.
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 going to kill me,” the Mi’kmaw fisherman said.
‘We can’t protect you’
In both incidents and in subsequent standoffs between the two sides RCMP officers have been accused of doing little to stop the violence.
Marr told Global News last week that despite calling 911 multiple times the RCMP took two hours to arrive.
Nearly “every single window” at the lobster pound was smashed in as men attempted to gain access to the building. Marr says the RCMP stood there and watched the vandalism of his vehicle and the building he was inside.
It was only a few hours later that RCMP came and talked to him.
“They told us that the only way that this was gonna come to any kind of end was if I hand over my lobsters to them,” he said.
Marr refused and the RCMP left for a short time before eventually coming back.
“That’s when they came in and told me ‘that there is over 120 of them out here. There’s nothing we can do to protect you. All we can do is get you out of here and leave. We can’t protect you,’” he said.
Eventually, the group was forced to leave. Marr claims the non-Indigenous fishermen destroyed his catch, which he estimated was probably worth $40,000.
The facility that Marr took cover in was later destroyed by what police called a “suspicious” fire on Saturday.
Violence won’t be tolerated
Lucki insisted on Wednesday that “the violence, the criminal activity will not be tolerated” and that the force will respond.
She pointed to the charging of a 31-year-old from Yarmouth County in connection with the vehicle that was set on fire in New Edinburgh last week and the arrest of a man who allegedly assaulted Chief Michael Sack of the Sip’knekatik First Nation as proof that the Mounties would keep the peace.
RCMP say a man that suffered life-threatening injuries in the suspicious fire that destroyed the lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico is considered to be a person of interest in the case.
Lucki didn’t offer any information on what RCMP would do differently in the future.
The Mounties in Nova Scotia were cleared earlier this week to call on RCMP officers from P.E.I. and New Brunswick in order to bolster the numbers able to respond to incidents of violence
The commissioner says officers in southwest Nova Scotia are hoping to keep a calm environment which will allow for dialogue and a peaceful resolution.
Lucki did not address a reporter’s question about whether she considered the ongoing incidents a crisis. Instead, she said that the threat assessment changes “constantly.”