RCMP release photos of persons of interest in southwestern, N.S. lobster conflict; 21 arrested
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia RCMP have arrested 21 people so far in relation to criminal activity by a large group at a southwestern, N.S. lobster pound on Oct. 13, and are asking the public for help in continuing to identify persons of interest.
RCMP confirmed that about 200 people were present at two incidents Oct. 13 outside a facility in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., which was storing lobster caught by members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation outside of the federally regulated fishing season.
Photos posted on social media showed lobster strewn about the facility, and the RCMP say they were told that the large group had prevented employees from leaving the building, which was damaged by the crowd.
Photos posted on social media showed lobster strewn about the facility, and the RCMP said the large group had prevented employees from leaving the building, which was damaged by the crowd.
One suspect was later charged with arson after a van was set on fire outside the building.
The pound was burned to the ground early on Oct. 17.
The First Nation says its people have the constitutionally protected treaty right to fish where and when they want, based on a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that affirmed their right fish for a "moderate livelihood."
However, non-Indigenous fishers have pointed to a second ruling from the court that says the fishery is subject to federal regulation to ensure conservation of the resource.
On Friday, the Mounties issued a brief statement with photos, saying they were seeking public's help in identifying suspects who engaged in criminal activity. The grainy photos show several men, some of them holding flashlights as they reach into a crate filled with lobster.
The RCMP say no charges have been laid since the 21 arrests were announced.
RCMP Sgt. Andrew Joyce said the arrests were made some time between the confrontation in Middle West Pubnico and this week. He said charges will be laid and more arrests are expected.
The vandalism at the lobster pound on Oct. 13 followed a similar incident five hours earlier at a lobster pound about 100 kilometres away in New Edinburgh, N.S., which was also ransacked.
At the time, the RCMP faced criticism from Indigenous leaders who accused officers of standing by while the two pounds were vandalized and the lobster catches were destroyed.
The RCMP, however, argued that when a "handful" of officers were dispatched to deal with two angry mobs, the priority was "preservation of life" rather than making arrests.
A man was later arrested for allegedly assaulting Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack after a large crowd gathered at the New Edinburgh lobster pound on Oct. 14.
On Nov. 14, the RCMP announced that a 74-year-old Nova Scotia man from Digby County had been charged with two counts of assault, both unrelated to Sack's case.
On Nov. 30, the RCMP said an Indigenous band councillor had been charged with unsafe operation of a vessel following a Sept. 20 incident on St. Marys Bay, where the self-regulated Indigenous lobster fishery opened on Sept. 17.
As well, a 26-year-old fisher from Yarmouth County was charged with the same offence in relation to an Oct. 12 incident on St. Marys Bay. And a 42-year-old man was charged with disobeying an interim injunction prohibiting interference with the First Nation's fishery.
On Dec. 4, the Mounties said a 49-year-old Nova Scotia man had been charged with assaulting a woman on Oct. 14 in New Edinburgh.
RCMP say the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are expected.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Yarmouth Rural RCMP Detachment.
With files from the Canadian Press.