Hundreds of commercial fishers rally outside DFO office in southwest Nova Scotia
HALIFAX -- Hundreds of commercial fishers and supporters gathered at a rally outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans office in Barrington Passage, N.S., Monday morning.
Commercial fishers told CTV News they were there to ensure Federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan does her job, and allows DFO to do its job.
"The message is we would like the moderate livelihood defined," said commercial fisherman Kirk Nickerson. "We never chose to challenge the treaty right or offend any aboriginal with the treaty right but as soon as we discuss anything about the treaty right or the moderate livelihoood we’re labelled as racist and that is terrible because we are sitting here doing DFO’s job getting labelled as racist."
"When Ottawa doesn't listen there has to be action," said fisherman Steve MacKenzie. "I know these actions aren't what they want, exactly, but we're frustrated. We're frustrated."
So too are the Indigenous fishers, who say their gear has been hauled out of the water and cut. They say they are also upset that some businesses in the area are refusing to sell them traps or fuel.
"The industry has handcuffed us everwhere down there. We can't buy traps, gear, we can't sell our lobster," said Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne'katik First Nation on Monday.
In a letter issued Sunday evening, Jordan and three other cabinet ministers requested an emergency debate in the House of Commons over a treaty dispute between commercial fishermen and Mi'kmaq fishers in Nova Scotia.
In the letter, Jordan says parliamentarians should have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the violence that's erupted over the dispute about Mi'kmaq treaty rights to fish for a "moderate living."
Jordan, along with Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, and Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller, held a news conference Monday to speak on the situation in Nova Scotia. The federal ministers condemned the acts of violence against Indigenous fishers and called for a peaceful end to the dispute.
Nova Scotia’s Assembly of Mi’kmaq chiefs has also called for an emergency meeting with federal ministers in response to the escalating tensions in southwest Nova Scotia.
Commercial fishers and their supporters who rallied Monday morning in Barrington told CTV News they want to be at the table with DFO and want to be included in the talks with Jordan and the government.
The increased attention from Ottawa comes after a lobster pound that stored the catch of Mi'kmaq fishers burned to the ground Saturday morning.
A man described as a person of interest in the blaze is in hospital with life-threatening injuries.
The Mounties have made two arrests in relation to other incidents linked to the dispute, charging one man with assault against a local Indigenous chief and charging another with arson for allegedly burning a vehicle.
Non-Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia take issue with the Mi'kmaq people fishing outside the federally-determined fishing season, but Ottawa notes that the treaty right for the Mik'maq to fish for a moderate living is constitutionally protected.
The treaty was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999, but some non-Indigenous critics point to a clarification issued by the court that says the treaty rights would be subject to federal regulations.
On Sunday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Ottawa must define what constitutes legal harvesting in a "moderate livelihood" fishery.
McNeil tweeted that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans needs to answer that question before the province can examine its own rules for fish buyers.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Sarah Plowman.