Canada's parliament to hold emergency debate on indigenous fishing conflict

by Reuters
Monday, 19 October 2020 23:10 GMT

(Updates with plans for parliamentary debate, comments from commercial fishermen spokesman)

By Moira Warburton

TORONTO, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Canada's parliament will hold an emergency debate on Monday night after clashes over indigenous fishing rights in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia turned violent in recent days, drawing condemnation from senior government officials.

Tensions between local commercial fishermen and fishers from the Mi'kmaq First Nation in the province have escalated in recent days, resulting in several suspected cases of arson and multiple arrests.

"The acts of violence we have seen in the past days and weeks are disgusting, unacceptable, racist in nature," Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told a briefing on Monday, as Ottawa provided more police resources to tamp down clashes.

"To this day, (indigenous people) still suffer the consequences of colonial practices but they have shown an extreme resilience and courage in standing up for their rights."

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1999 that the Mi'kmaq First Nation had the right to hunt and fish for a "moderate livelihood" in its traditional territory.

But the ruling left many gray areas - including the practical definition of "moderate livelihood" - leading Mi'kmaq fishermen to begin catching lobster outside the federally mandated fishing season, raising the ire of local commercial lobster fishers.

Protests in support of both sides resulted in clashes last week that at times turned violent, with one person being arrested after attacking Chief Michael Sack of the Sipekne'atik First Nation. The head of the province's fishing union resigned, citing concerns for his personal safety.

"The people are in fear," said Sterling Belliveau, a former provincial fisheries minister and spokesman for the commercial fishermen. "We need to hit the pause button and get both sides to the table."

A lobster pound where indigenous fishermen stored their catch was set on fire, resulting in one person being admitted to a hospital with life-threatening injuries, police said on Sunday.

Sack called on Sunday for the Canadian military to be brought in to keep the peace, replacing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Indigenous nations have a fraught relationship with the RCMP, the federal force responsible for policing in much of rural Canada.

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair pushed back on the suggestion on Monday, as he called for an end to the violence.

"This isn't a military operation, it is a peacekeeping operation," he said. "We have taken steps necessary to ensure that (the RCMP has) adequate resources to do the job." (Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Tom Brown and Peter Cooney)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.