HALIFAX — Canada’s Indigenous services minister said Monday that police in Nova Scotia have failed to properly protect Indigenous people embroiled in an ugly dispute over lobster fishing.
Marc Miller made the comments about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after a turbulent weekend in the Atlantic province, where a lobster pound was burned to the ground and police accused one person of assaulting a Mi’kmaq leader and another of setting fire to a van owned by an Indigenous fisherman.
For weeks, Indigenous fishermen have said they are being targeted with harassment, vandalism and violence from commercial harvesters.
“Indigenous people have been let down by the police, those who are sworn to protect them,? Miller said. “The protection of people on both sides has to prevail, and clearly that has not been the case up until now.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said additional officers had been deployed to respond to the increasingly violent dispute, which started Sept. 17 when the Sipekne’katik First Nation launched a self-regulated commercial fishery outside the federally designated fishing season.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office issued a statement Monday saying he had spoken with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil on Sunday and they “condemned the appalling violence? and agreed that respectful dialogue was key to resolving the dispute.
The lobster dispute is a sensitive issue for the Trudeau government, which has made reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people a top priority.
Some Nova Scotia restaurants are boycotting lobster in response to violence against the Mi’kmaq.
The Sipekne’katik band has awarded 11 lobster fishing licenses to 11 boats working in St. Marys Bay, each with a maximum of 50 traps aboard.
Some non-Indigenous fishermen in Nova Scotia have staged protests to highlight the fact that even though the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed the treaty right to fish, hunt and gather for a moderate livelihood, the court also said the federal government retains the right to regulate the fisheries for conservation purposes. They say Indigenous fishermen should not be allowed to fish outside the the federally regulated season because that could harm lobster stocks.
Eleanor Michael of Sipekne’katik First Nation has said she is frightened by the attacks on her community.
“I’m full of fear,” she said.