Time to end this vi­o­lence

Toronto Star - - INSIGHT -

The lob­ster trade isn’t for the faint of heart. There are dan­gers on the cold At­lantic wa­ters, un­cer­tainty over prices, and plenty of wor­ries about the sus­tain­abil­ity of the liveli­hood.

But what it should not en­tail are boats and ve­hi­cles be­ing set ablaze. Vi­o­lence on wharves. Or an­gry mobs sur­round­ing and dam­ag­ing lob­ster stor­age fa­cil­i­ties, plun­der­ing catch, and hurl­ing racist in­sults and threats to burn out the peo­ple in­side.

But that’s what First Na­tions fish­ers have been facing in south­west­ern Nova Sco­tia.

And worse still, this dis­pute shows every sign of es­ca­lat­ing fur­ther if the RCMP con­tin­ues to stand around and watch these vi­o­lent and crim­i­nal acts by com­mer­cial fish­er­man with­out do­ing any­thing about it. And the fed­eral govern­ment doesn’t put more ur­gency into bring­ing all sides to the ta­ble to sort out their dif­fer­ences peace­fully.

There’s a tan­gled web of In­dige­nous rights and govern­ment reg­u­la­tions of com­mer­cial fish­eries in­volved in this bat­tle, so set­tling it won’t be easy. But it must be done at a ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble and not on the streets of Nova Sco­tia’s lob­ster fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

The root of this dis­pute dates back to a Supreme Court of Canada de­ci­sion in 1999 that rec­og­nized the treaty rights of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet in East­ern Canada to earn a “mod­er­ate liveli­hood” through fish­ing, even in the off-sea­son. It was later clar­i­fied that those fish­ing rights were still sub­ject to fed­eral reg­u­la­tions so long as the govern­ment could jus­tify any re­stric­tions it im­posed.

But what’s a “mod­er­ate” liv­ing these days? What fed­eral reg­u­la­tions, par­tic­u­larly around conservati­on, can and should be ap­plied to the First Na­tions fish­ery?

In 21 years, these ques­tions have never been ad­e­quately or com­pre­hen­sively an­swered. And we’re see­ing the price of that fail­ure now.

Fish­eries and Oceans Min­is­ter Ber­nadette Jor­dan has said she’s try­ing to find a so­lu­tion by speak­ing to First Na­tions fish­ers and the com­mer­cial fish­er­man sep­a­rately.

Given how low trust is and how high ten­sions are in these com­mu­ni­ties, that seems a ques­tion­able strat­egy. Jor­dan might do well to lis­ten to the ad­vice of Nova Sco­tia Premier Stephen Mc­Neil.

“This is only get­ting more en­trenched,” Mc­Neil said on Thurs­day. “They need to be in the same room so ev­ery­one knows what each other is say­ing.”

The re­spon­si­bil­ity for set­tling this dis­pute clearly rests with Ot­tawa and it needs to move more quickly than it has to date. In the mean­time, Canada’s na­tional po­lice force needs to get its act to­gether.

Last week, the RCMP de­fended its of­fi­cers for sim­ply watch­ing — rather than in­ter­ven­ing — when about 200 men wreaked havoc on two dif­fer­ent lob­ster stor­age fa­cil­i­ties be­ing used by In­dige­nous fish­ers. The Moun­ties couldn’t spare the of­fi­cers it would have taken to ar­rest peo­ple be­cause they were too busy “try­ing to make sure no­body is griev­ously hurt, or worse,” said RCMP Sgt. An­drew Joyce. How on earth were the RCMP not bet­ter pre­pared? Ten­sions have been ris­ing for week­sand there were pre­vi­ous in­ci­dents that should have acted as a warn­ing to the po­lice.

That they didn’t see what was com­ing is why In­dige­nous Ser­vices Min­is­ter Marc Miller found him­self sum­ming up the risk of this sit­u­a­tion in the stark­est of terms.

“The risk, if we don’t get this right, is that peo­ple will die,” he said. “Vi­o­lence begets vi­o­lence, and that is un­ac­cept­able.”

The RCMP needs to do its job and the govern­ment needs to move ne­go­ti­a­tions along to the point where the par­i­ties ac­tu­ally feel they’re mak­ing progress.

Time is run­ning out. This dis­pute needs to be set­tled on land be­fore the area’s com­mer­cial fish­ery opens at the end of Novem­ber — and ev­ery­one is on the wa­ter to­gether.

The Supreme Court of Canada rec­og­nized the treaty rights of In­dige­nous fish­ers to earn a “mod­er­ate liveli­hood.”

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