As tensions continue to escalate between indigenous and commercial fishers in Nova Scotia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has condemned acts of violence against Mi'kmaq lobster fishers.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh meanwhile called for the Liberals to “step up” to resolve the situation while Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole accused the prime minister of being slow to act.
Following clashes outside fish plants in southwestern Nova Scotia in recent weeks, a lobster pound that stored the catch of Mi'kmaq fishers was burned to the ground early on Oct. 17.
During an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Oct. 19, Trudeau denounced the “violence, harassment, and intimidation” against the Mi’kmaq fishermen.
“The appalling violence in Nova Scotia must stop now. It is unacceptable, it is shameful, and it is criminal,” he said.
Trudeau said the federal government will continue to work with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and the RCMP to keep the communities safe.
But O’Toole said it was the Liberals’ “inaction” that led to the escalation of the dispute.
“The situation in Nova Scotia is getting worse and worse because this prime minister and this minister (Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan) are slow to act. The Conservatives have been calling for mediation for months. Today, the police are on the ground,” he said.
“Why has there not been substantive mediation between the Mi'kmaq and the commercial fishermen?”
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh noted that the problems related to the “moderate livelihood” fishery have been going on for decades and called on the government to take immediate action to end the dispute.
“Leadership is stepping up,” he said. “When will the Prime Minister step up, protect the Mi'kmaq people and their constitutional rights, and end the violence?”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she agreed with Singh.
“I very much agree with the member opposite that Canada has for decades and centuries failed the indigenous people in Canada, and it is time for us to put this right,” she said.
Trudeau said real reconciliation cannot be limited to just the federal government and the indigenous communities, but to include “all orders of government and, importantly, all Canadians.”
“We need an approach that does not just recognize inherent treaty rights, but implements their spirit and intent. That is why we will work with commercial fishers and Canadians to ensure this is done fairly. I understand this is challenging. This is not an inconvenience, but an obligation.”
The RCMP is investigating a fire over the weekend that destroyed a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico containing the lobster catch of Mi'kmaq fishers. For weeks, indigenous fishers say they've been targeted with harassment, vandalism, and violence from commercial harvesters.
Non-Indigenous fishers say they are angry the Mi'kmaq recently launched a self-regulated lobster fishery that harvests the animals outside the federally regulated fishing season.
The issue of the indigenous people’s right to earn a “moderate livelihood” and to fish outside the federally designated fishing season are central to the dispute, and calls for Ottawa to define the Mi'kmaq treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood have been mounting.
In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a landmark decision that said the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet people of Atlantic Canada and the Gaspe region of Quebec have a right to earn a “moderate livelihood” from fishing.
On Oct. 17, McNeil said on Twitter that the federal Department needs to “answer the question of what constitutes legal harvesting under a moderate livelihood fishery.”
He further added that the province’s regulations “rely on the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ authority and responsibility to manage the fishery and identify what are legal, licenced fisheries.”
“The way to resolve this issue is through respectful dialogue,” McNeil said.