A march in solidarity with fishers of the Mi’kmaw nation in Nova Scotia took place on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, starting at McBurney Park at 11:30 a.m.
Approximately a dozen people came out in the wind and rain to sing, drum and to walk from the park, down Princess Street to Ontario Street.
“The reason we are doing this is in solidarity,” said the march’s organizer Lisa Cadue. “It’s not a protest, it’s not a social gathering. It is to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. Kingston is not like Toronto. We don’t have millions of people, but we can stay in solidarity with our people.”
The march concluded in front of City Hall. There, Cadue asked former Liberal Member of Parliament for Kingston at the Islands, Sophie Kiwala, to speak, describing her as “the one person in this place who has never given up on our people, and has always stood by our people in any way she could.”
“I know how fragile our reconciliation is,” Kiwala said. “I know how much work we have to do… We cannot tolerate the racism. We cannot tolerate the violence, the burning of buildings and the destruction. This is reprehensible. We will not stand for it.”
Over the past month, Mi’kmaq fishers in Nova Scotia have been subject to threats, theft, vandalism and suspected arson as they practiced their right to fish outside the commercial fishing season. What began as sabotage of Indigenous fishers’ lobster traps and boats has escalated over the past week, with a lobster pound — or storage facility — burned down, and one man sent to hospital in critical condition. The RCMP in Nova Scotia have called the fire “suspicious.”
The commercial fishers protesting against the Mi’kmaw fishery have said they are concerned about conservation. They’ve argued that lobster breed during the fall, noting that female lobsters carrying eggs are being harvested. Despite this, their demonstrations have included dumping hundreds of pounds of live lobster outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, allegedly burning a lobster pound to the ground, and dousing live lobsters in paint thinner to destroy the catch.
The Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution released a statement in support of the Mi’kmaq on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, saying that respecting First Nations rights is not in conflict with conservation biology.
In the face of growing hostility, and a perceived lack of forcible intervention from the RCMP or federal government, the Mi’kmaw fishery dispute is now drawing national attention.
RCMP response draws criticism
Andrew Joyce, Public Information Officer with the RCMP in Nova Scotia, told the media on Friday Oct. 16, 2020 that the RCMP “understand what the issue is.”
“We don’t see it as a police issue, but we understand both sides,” he said. “We understand the passion that they’re bringing to the table. We respect that.”
The National Police Federation, which represents roughly 20,000 RCMP members, reinforced this stance on Monday Oct. 19, 2020, calling the matter political, rather than criminal.
Joyce described the events RCMP faced on Tuesday, Oct. 13, when they were called to two separate protests outside lobster processing facilities where Mi’qmak fishers were working. He said the first building was in a remote, rural area of Nova Scotia.
“What the police observed at this time was a very angry, mob type mentality. We had fewer than 10 police officers that attended this scene and we were dealing with 200 people. We are observing throwing rocks, smashing windows, a vehicle was burnt. What we’re seeing as our main role is the preservation of life. We are there to keep the peace and preserve life. That is our main role here,” he said.
Police were then called to a second incident 100 km away, “with very similar circumstances.” Police made no arrests at either event. While Joyce said criminal behaviour is not acceptable, had police officers made arrests, they would have diminished their resources by two officers.
Cadue said she perceives the lack of police action as discrimination. “It is so sad to know that the racism from the RCMP and the police down in Nova Scotia could be so open. They don’t care. They really don’t care,” she said.
Cadue said similar acts of vandalism against Indigenous fishermen are now spreading to New Brunswick.
As demonstrations continue, Mi’kmaq Chief Mike Sack is calling on the federal government and the RCMP to send reinforcements to the area.
A Supreme Court decision in 1999, known as the Marshall decision, ruled that Mi’kmaq people had an inherent right to fish outside of the commercial season for food or to earn “a moderate livelihood.”
However, the exact definition of “moderate” has never been determined or codified, leaving room for the on-going dispute.