Lobster dispute: RCMP release images of men near fish plant that was torched

HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia RCMP released images Friday showing two men walking away from a fish plant on the night it burned to the ground amid an escalating dispute over an Indigenous lobster fishery.

Yarmouth County RCMP described the men as persons of interest.

The grainy images were captured Oct. 16 outside the plant in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., before a suspicious fire broke out near midnight, police say.

“What I want to stress here is getting the identity of those persons,” RCMP Sgt. Andrew Joyce said in an interview.

“That information will help us move the investigation forward . . . . We are hoping to get the full co-operation from anyone who has any knowledge of these events and who these two persons are.”

The plant was storing lobster caught by the Sipekne’katik First Nation, which attracted national attention last month when it started setting lobster traps in St. Marys Bay before the start of the federally regulated fishing season.

The Mi’kmaq band has said it has the treaty right to pursue a “moderate livelihood” by fishing, hunting and gathering where and when it want, as spelled out in a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that cites treaties signed by the British Crown in the early 1760s.

Non-Indigenous protesters have said they are opposed to the band’s self-regulated commercial lobster fishing business because it is operating outside the regulated season and could have a negative impact on lobster stocks in the bay.

As well, they note the Supreme Court of Canada clarified its landmark 1999 ruling _ known as the Marshall decision _ stating Indigenous fisheries could be subject to federal regulation to ensure fish conservation, so long as the measures were justified.

A day after the fire at the unoccupied plant, police confirmed they were aware of a person of interest with life-threatening injuries believed to be related to the fire. Police also said they believe the blaze was deliberately set.

In the security video footage released Friday, two men can be seen walking through the darkness along a gravel path beside what appears to be a large building flanked by refrigeration gear, crates and other equipment.

A light on the side of the building illuminates the scene, which appears to show one man in a hooded jacket supporting the second man, who is wearing shorts and is limping as he appears to be wearing only one shoe.

At the top of the frame, an intense orange light varies in intensity, but it’s unclear what the source is. Joyce confirmed investigators believe the fire was set before the video was recorded.

He said he could not draw a link between the individual who was injured by the fire and the two people in the video. As well, he said he had no additional information to release about the people involved, and no one is currently in custody.

Later in the day, the chief of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, Mike Sack, issued a statement saying he was calling an emergency meeting to respond to the “co-ordinated and systemic efforts of the commercial fishery to undermine and destabilize Sipekne’katik’s fishery.”

Sack said there now appears to be a “high degree of reluctance” to go fishing among the band’s moderate livelihood fishers.

“Ultimately, we believe this was the end goal of the commercial fishery’s efforts all along,” he said. “We recognize it as a drastic setback, not only for my community but for the Mi’kmaq people and Indigenous peoples across Canada overall.”

Meanwhile, the bands losses continue to mount, Sack said.

The cost of lost or damaged fishing gear, coupled with the loss of potential sales of lobster, has reached more than $3 million, the chief said.

The Oct. 16 fire followed a series of violent clashes and vandalism in southwestern Nova Scotia. At one point, Sack was allegedly assaulted by another man.

On Oct. 21, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia granted the band a temporary injunction aimed at preventing people from interfering with their new fishery.

The injunction, which recognizes the band’s constitutionally protected right to harvest lobster, says some of those opposed to the new enterprise are using “criminal intimidation, threats, and property destruction.”

“No matter where an individual may stand on the myriad of issues in play right now in southwest Nova Scotia, I would hope everyone could agree that violence is not way to sort things out,” Justice James Chipman said in a decision, the written portion of which was released Friday.

“What has been going on over the past month or so has shocked all Canadians . . . . Canadians are better than this. The Acadian and Indigenous communities have a broader history of harmony, allegiances and alliances.”

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