Indigenous lobster boats head from the harbour in Saulnierville, N.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Andrew Vaughan

Indigenous lobster boats head from the harbour in Saulnierville, N.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Andrew Vaughan

Mi’kmaq lawsuit alleges intimidation, harassment in Nova Scotia lobster fishery

Among the named defendants are the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association and more than two dozen owners

A Mi’kmaq First Nation that encountered violence after launching a self-regulated lobster fishery last fall has filed a lawsuit against non-Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia, the RCMP and the federal government.

In a statement of claim filed Friday with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, the Sipekne’katik First Nation alleges that commercial fishermen stole and damaged hundreds of band members’ traps and engaged in a co-ordinated campaign of intimidation and harassment.

The lawsuit alleges that between 75 and 100 boats operated by non-Indigenous fishers headed to St. Marys Bay near Saulnierville, N.S., where they were used in late September 2020 to “intimidate and harass one or more of the plaintiffs, and to steal or damage their lobster traps.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court. A representative for the non-Indigenous fishers could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit follows months of tension surrounding a moderate livelihood lobster fishery that the band launched on Sept. 17, 2020, before the opening of the federally designated fishing season. “The opening of the moderate livelihood fishery … provoked a violent response from non-Indigenous commercial fishers and their supporters,” the lawsuit says.

The court action also alleges that non-Indigenous fishers operated their vessels in a reckless manner, “intentionally driving close to certain of the plaintiffs’ vessels or creating large wakes to swamp the … vessels, threatening the safety of one or more of the plaintiffs.”

Indigenous fishers also claim they were chased, swarmed and surrounded on the water, and that some non-Indigenous fishers fired flares at them.

Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia argue that a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirms the Mi’kmaq treaty right to fish for a “moderate livelihood” when and where they want — even outside the federally regulated season. That decision was later clarified by the court, however, which said Ottawa could regulate the Mi’kmaq treaty right for conservation and other limited purposes.

The plaintiffs include about 30 Indigenous fishers who took part in the band’s food, social and ceremonial lobster fishery, as well as nine who participated in the moderate livelihood fishery. Five band members took part in both fisheries, the document says.

Among the named defendants are the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association and more than two dozen owners, operators and crew of various fishing boats and enterprises in western Nova Scotia.

The lawsuit alleges that the association “actively encouraged” members to “interfere with the plaintiffs’ traps and remove them from the water” on Sept. 20, 2020.

“The fisher defendants and the association acted in concert by operating their vessels on the water in a co-ordinated and dangerous manner, all with the intention … of threatening the health and safety of the plaintiffs,” the court document says.

The statement of claim also alleges that both the RCMP and the federal Fisheries Department failed in their duties to ensure the safety of Indigenous fishers.

It says the Mounties knew or ought to have known the Indigenous fishers were at risk, but the lawsuit says the RCMP failed “to act appropriately … to deter or prevent the unlawful acts” or to deploy adequate resources to keep the peace.

The RCMP issued a brief statement, saying it had yet to receive a copy of the lawsuit. “We will review and consider any such claim once received,” Cpl. Mark Skinner said in an email.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it could not comment on the lawsuit as it is before the courts.

Carole Saindon said in an email that the federal government is firmly committed to advancing reconciliation and implementing Indigenous Treaty rights through respectful, constructive dialogue.

She said First Nations affected by the Marshall decisions have a Supreme Court affirmed Treaty right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood and the federal government is working in partnership to implement that right.

The band is seeking financial relief for “assault, intimidation and false imprisonment.” It also wants compensation to cover the cost of replacing stolen or damaged traps and the lost opportunity to catch lobster for the food, social and ceremonial fishery.

The First Nation filed another lawsuit filed last month targeting the constitutionality of a Nova Scotia law that has prevented the band from selling lobster it caught in St. Marys Bay.

ALSO READ: New UBC Indigenous fisheries centre aims to uplift community rights

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

fishingIndigenous

Just Posted

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
One death, 39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

There are 484 active cases of the virus in the region currently

Brenda Ware. (RCMP)
Murder charge laid against man in Kootenay National Park homicide

Philip Toner was located in Lake Country on May 11

Town has passed the 2021 budget, with a five per cent spending increase. (Claire Palmer photo)
Town council approves 2021 budget and tax rate bylaw

The budget will increase by five per cent this year

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

Vernon’s Tanya Wick, human resources VP at Tolko Industries Ltd., has been named the 2021 HR Professional of the Year by the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of British Columbia and Yukon. (CPHR BC & Yukon photo)
Okanagan resident gets top provincial award for HR excellence

Tolko’s Tanya Wick has earned the title of 2021 HR Professional of the Year

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

What3words was first created in the U.K. in 2013 and is credited to saving the lives of outdoor enthusiasts around the world. (Contributed)
‘This is a life saving tool’: App helps paramedics find capsized canoeists near Revelstoke

What3words pinpoints the person’s phone location to a three-meter range

The City of Vernon is taking a close look at six high-priority Okanagan Lake access points, including three sites along Tronson Road (pictured above) in May 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Vernon council looking closely at Okanagan Lake access points

Six access points have been identified as ideal for recreation

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Police working to identify the two bodies found in South Okanagan

The area will see higher police presence ahead of a forensic examination

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Most Read