Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port as the lobster season on Nova Scotia’s South Shore begins, in West Dover, N.S., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port as the lobster season on Nova Scotia’s South Shore begins, in West Dover, N.S., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Parallels drawn between police action over B.C. pipeline fights, Mi’kmaq fishers

Then there was the RCMP’s raid on Wet’suwet’en Nation territory in February

By Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

The RCMP’s failure to protect Mi’kmaq fishers from intimidation, assault and destruction in Nova Scotia demonstrates how the Canadian state is all too ready to permit or perpetrate violence against Indigenous Peoples, say First Nations groups and B.C. politicians.

On the one hand, police have been quick to arrest Indigenous leaders when they might threaten the interests of fossil fuel companies, as in the case of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX), where RCMP arrested a Secwepemc hereditary chief and others last week to clear a path for the pipeline’s construction.

Then there was the RCMP’s raid on Wet’suwet’en Nation territory in February, to clear the route for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, where officers pointed their guns, destroyed a gate, extinguished a sacred fire and arrested people, including several matriarchs, loading them into police vans and cuffing them with zip ties.

In the cases concerning the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines, the RCMP were enforcing court injunctions allowing safe access to work areas.

On the other hand, RCMP have been criticized as slow to act as an angry mob descended upon a lobster pound in West Pubnico, N.S., kicking doors and pelting the building with rocks.

“The RCMP just stood there,” one lobster fisher with the Sipekne’katik First Nation told the Toronto Star.

In addition to the lobster pound attack, a vehicle has been set ablaze, lobster traps have been pulled out of the ocean and the chief of Sipekne’katik First Nation, Michael Sack, was assaulted.

“I definitely see parallels, with the state allowing violence to happen to Indigenous people,” said Molly Wickham, spokeswoman for the Gidimt’en camp of Wet’suwet’en Nation members.

“In our case it was the government allowing RCMP to come in and bring violence into our communities,” Wickham said. “The actions of RCMP show citizens what they are allowed to do to Indigenous people.”

The Mi’kmaq’s treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood has also been affirmed by the Supreme Court, and the Sipekne’katik First Nation was exercising its constitutionally protected rights when it opened a self-regulated lobster fishery in September.

Despite this, “little action has been taken to prosecute the criminal behaviour of those inciting hatred and terror and who have created an environment of lawlessness and violence,” the BC Assembly of First Nations said on Oct. 18.

The RCMP failed to uphold the Constitution and the honour of the Crown in Mi’kmaq territory, argued the assembly. They said the turn of events threatens to “unravel” decades of work towards reconciliation, meaningful dialogue and respect for rights, title and First Nations’ jurisdictions.

“As Canadians witness events unfold in the Atlantic lobster fishery dispute it has become even more apparent that the standard of justice and law enforcement in Canada are deeply flawed and corrupted by systemic racism,” it said.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Monday during a press conference in Ottawa that the acts of violence in Nova Scotia were “disgusting, unacceptable and racist in nature.”

The situation demonstrated that, “once again … Indigenous people have been let down by the police, those who are sworn to protect them,” he said.

“Throughout history, Indigenous Peoples have experienced continuous discrimination and to this day still suffer the consequences of colonial practices. But they have shown an extreme resilience and courage in standing up for their rights.”

The federal government has said it strongly condemns the violence that has taken place and that officials want “respectful dialogue” concerning Mi’kmaq treaty rights. Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan has said negotiations are ongoing and that she will continue to work with the Mi’kmaq.

Blair’s cabinet colleague, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, stood up for the force’s efforts in Nova Scotia during the same press conference. Asked directly if he agreed that police were failing the Mi’kmaq, he said the police “have a responsibility to protect all Canadians” as well as uphold Indigenous rights.

“I believe the vast majority of officers do their best to serve those communities with professionalism and with integrity and respect but clearly there are concerns within the communities that we are working hard to address,” said Blair.

Many of the RCMP officers deployed in the area are Indigenous themselves, the minister noted, and grew up in the communities in which they serve.

“I think it’s important that cultural competency and understanding of not just the long history, but the cultural concerns and the very legitimate concerns of Indigenous people on how the police serve and protect them and uphold and respect Indigenous rights is critical to that work,” he said.

The Nova Scotia RCMP says it is taking steps to ensure “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.” The police have laid charges in relation to Sack’s assault and also laid charges in relation to the vehicle fire.

RCMP “has a significant presence” in the area where the vehicle fire occured, said the force, “including general duty officers from several local detachments officers from across the division and RCMP in Prince Edward Island with specialized training in de-escalation and crowd control.”

The police’s “division liaison team” was also fully engaged in the area, they said, “continuing their work to build and maintain relationships among those involved.” An RCMP spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.

Sack, however, cast doubt on the RCMP’s ability to control the situation, saying he’d prefer the military step in, and calling the RCMP “useless.”

Blair said he appreciated Sack’s comments and shared concern over the violence but noted that it wasn’t a military operation, it was a “peacekeeping operation” and was the responsibility of the police of jurisdiction in the area — in this case, the RCMP.

“We have taken steps necessary to ensure that they have adequate resources to do the job,” he said.

The minister also said one of the best ways to prevent further criminality and violence is to hold people to account when crimes have been committed.

“I want to assure Canadians that the RCMP know that they have a responsibility to maintain the peace. When crimes are committed, people are to be charged and held to account. Those investigations are ongoing. Those court cases will proceed,” he said.

Still, current and former Parliamentarians continued to raise questions and draw parallels this week over police actions.

Green party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands, asked in the House of Commons Monday why there was “never any shortage of well-equipped RCMP officers to arrest Indigenous non-violent protesters against pipelines in British Columbia, but no one to protect the Indigenous catch in a warehouse in Nova Scotia?”

On Twitter, former MP Romeo Saganash said: “Why is it that the TMX pipeline route is being afforded an ongoing protection by the RCMP, but the Mi’kmaq are not afforded the same protection for exercising a constitutionally protected treaty right?”

Former justice minister and Independent MP for Vancouver Granville, Jody Wilson-Raybould, said on CBC Radio on Tuesday that Mi’kmaq need to be involved in decision-making and co-operative management around the fishery.

“This is the work that’s long past due, and the federal government has a responsibility to do something about it,” she said.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Indigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta has identified 1,828 new cases and 15 new COVID-19-related deaths, which brings the provincial death toll to 590. (File photo)
Alberta identifies 1,828 new COVID-19 cases on Friday

Central zone has 1,251 active cases

Lacombe Police and RCMP have charged four people and seized three loaded guns and a small amount of methamphetamine following a traffic stop on Dec. 2. (Photo contributed)
Lacombe Police and RCMP arrest four people after joint investigation

The operation resulted in multiple loaded weapons seized and 116 charges

An aerial view of the Habitat for Humanity Aspen West build site in Blackfalds. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Red Deer
Habitat for Humanity Red Deer is building four new homes in Blackfalds

The homes are already under construction and expected to be completed by August 2021

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. (File photo)
Wolf Creek and Wetaskiwin school boards ‘reassured’ by letter from LaGrange

Boards urge the Alberta government to honour commitments to Indigenous peoples

Longtime central Alberta politician Judy Gordon has passed away. Photo courtesy of the City of Lacombe
Former Lacombe Mayor Judy Gordon passes away

Gordon also served as MLA for Lacombe-Stettler before retiring from politics in 2010

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Judge finds former Alberta Mountie not guilty of sexually assaulting colleague

Jason Andrew Tress, who is 34, was stationed in the northern Alberta community of Faust at the time of the alleged assault

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Alberta set to retire coal power by 2023, ahead of 2030 provincial deadline

In 2014, 55 per cent of Alberta’s electricity was produced from 18 coal-fired generators

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

Most Read