Lobster war shifts to Nova Scotia
Traps seized, 4 arrested after backdown in N.B.
Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau
Sunday, August 19, 2000
BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - The federal government backed down in its fight with native fishermen in New Brunswick yesterday even as it launched a new offensive against native fishing in Nova Scotia.
Federal negotiator James MacKenzie yesterday pledged that fisheries officers will stop seizing lobster traps in Miramichi Bay while negotiations to resolve the violent conflict get underway.
His announcement came just hours after 40 fisheries officers in eight boats swept across a Nova Scotia bay, seizing 800 native lobster traps and a 9-metre lobster boat and arresting four people.
The raid outraged many because there were three children on board the native boat, the Pat Shoal, when it was boarded by officers from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Donald Jeans says he was out fishing for mackerel with four friends and three boys, aged 11, 12 and 15, when fisheries officers swarmed over the side of his boat and started handcuffing people.
``The boats bumped so hard that one young fellow fell on his backside,'' Jeans said.
``He could have gone over. The kids were really scared.''
A fisheries spokesperson said officers took the children to shore, where RCMP officers drove them to meet their parents.
Indian Brook Chief Reg Maloney yesterday denounced the raid and immediately asked a federal judge in Halifax to quash Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal's order to prosecute native people who fish outside the regular season.
Fisheries officials board native lobster boat in Nova Scotia
``This is the only course we have left to get them to stop bothering our guys on the water,'' Maloney said.
The Nova Scotia raid came just one day after Canada's top native leader, national chief Matthew Coon Come, warned Dhaliwal to ``back off'' or risk another crisis like the one at Oka.
The fight over native fishing rights was sparked by a Supreme Court decision that recognized Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people have a treaty right to fish commercially.
A clarification of the ruling stressed that Ottawa has the right to regulate the native fishery for conservation reasons, or in consideration of the needs of others who fish the same waters.
Until yesterday, Dhaliwal has insisted that means native people must follow the same seasons and regulations as non-native fishermen. He has offered bands millions of dollars, new fishing boats and training programs if they agree not to fight his interpretation of the ruling.
Most Maritime bands agreed, but Indian Brook and Burnt Church refused to sign the lucrative deals offered by Ottawa, saying they want to fish in the summer months when non-natives are barred from the water.
`Under the Marshall ruling, the minister has to justify each and every regulation why people from Burnt Church can't fish in Miramichi Bay or the people of Indian Brook can't fish in St. Mary's Bay.'
|- Lawyer Bruce Wildsmith |
``Under the Marshall ruling, the minister has to justify each and every regulation why people from Burnt Church can't fish in Miramichi Bay or the people of Indian Brook can't fish in St. Mary's Bay,'' said lawyer Bruce Wildsmith, who argued the case that went to the Supreme Court last year.
``(Indian Brook) Chief Maloney has been trying to get the minister to engage in that process. He has asked for the scientific or statistical justification for why his people can't fish at that time, but he has been given nothing.''
Yesterday, federal negotiator James MacKenzie suggested Ottawa will be flexible on the key point of whether native people must stick to the same fishing seasons as non-native people.
He has agreed to let the people of Burnt Church fish several hundred lobster traps out of season as talks continue.
And he has agreed that the band's own management plan will be the basis of negotiation for the future.
``We are very pleased with talks this afternoon; they were frank and productive,'' he said after the three-hour meeting.
``It's a small victory, but it's a victory,'' said protest organizer James Ward after the meeting.
Band members immediately tore down two barricades that have blocked a regional highway for five days.
As night fell, cheers rose up around the reserve and people drove back and forth along the main road honking their horns and hollering with glee.