RCMP have announced more charges have been laid in connection with the violent response to the Mi’kmaq moderate livelihood fishery in Nova Scotia last month.
The police announced on Saturday that they have laid two counts of assault against Yvon Thibault, 74, in connection with the vandalizing of a fishing compound in New Edinburgh, N.S., on Oct. 14.
Police have not provided any details about Thibault’s role, if any, in the vandalism of the lobster pound. They have not disclosed what the assault charges relate to.
A crowd of approximately 200 non-Indigenous commercial fishers swarmed the facility in New Edinburgh on Oct. 14, removing and damaging video cameras at the facility as well as ransacking the lobster pound and storage facility where the lobster catch was housed.
A van at the facility was later set on fire.
Later that night, the same thing occurred at a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S.
Mi’kmaw fisher Jason Marr told Global News last month that 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.
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.
Eventually, the group was forced to leave. Marr claims the non-Indigenous fishermen destroyed his catch, which he estimated was probably worth $40,000.
Violent opposition to Indigenous fisheries
The incidents were part of a series of hostile responses to the Sipekne’katik First Nation launching its regulated moderate livelihood fishery in September.
Traps laid by Mi’kmaw fishers have been repeatedly cut or damaged by mostly non-Indigenous commercial fishermen who oppose the moderate livelihood fishery saying it is illegal and should not be operating outside of the regulated season.
They say the moderate livelihood fisheries pose a danger to conservation efforts and the long-term health of the lobster stock in the region.
First Nations in Nova Scotia, as well as fisheries experts, have disagreed with their assessment.
There is no seasonal restriction on Indigenous nations in Eastern Canada who have a treaty right to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood,” a right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Marshall decision.
Although the term “moderate livelihood” was not formally defined by the court, a subsequent decision ruled that the government has the authority to impose some regulations for the purposes of conservation, subject to nation-to-nation consultations.
Only the latest charges
The announcement of charges against Thibault on Saturday is the latest action taken by RCMP in connection with the violent response to the Mi’kmaq moderate livelihood fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia.
A 31-year-old from Yarmouth County has been charged in connection with the vehicle that was set on fire in New Edinburgh and police have arrested a man who allegedly assaulted Chief Michael Sack of the Sip’knekatik First Nation.
The facility that Marr took cover in on Oct. 14 in Middle West Pubnico was later destroyed by what police called a “suspicious” fire on Oct. 16.
The facility was unoccupied at the time of the fire.
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.
The Mounties released photos and video that they say show persons of interest connected to the fire.
The footage that was released shows two men walking through the darkness along a gravel path beside what appears to be a large building flanked by refrigeration gear, crates and other equipment.
It’s not clear whether either person in the photo and video is the man who was injured in the blaze.
RCMP are looking for the public’s assistance in identifying the two men in the video. They have yet to provide an update on their investigation into the fire.
However, the RCMP said in its press release announcing the charges against Thibault on Saturday that they will “continue to take steps to ensure that those who unlawfully interfere with or threaten the safety of any person or property may be held accountable in accordance with the laws of Canada.”
Chief Sack of the Sip’knekatik First Nation has been highly critical of the perceived failure to act by the Mounties and has refused to remain idle while the RCMP investigate.
Earlier this week Sack announced that they will launch a series of lawsuits against non-Indigenous fishers for alleged damages incurred by its members.
Thibault is scheduled to appear in Digby Provincial Court on Feb. 15, 2021.
Police say their investigation is ongoing.
–With files from Global News’ Aya Al-Hakim, Jesse Thomas, Karla Renic, Graeme Benjamin and The Canadian Press