Lobster peace slipping away
Miramichi Bay talks stall as Rae leaves town and Ottawa talks tough

KELLY TOUGHILL
Toronto Star Atlantic Canada Bureau
Thursday, September 21, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - Last-ditch hopes for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Miramichi Bay faded into the dark last night when federal mediator Bob Rae gave up and went home.

``It would not be helpful for me to hang around and give the impression that my staying would solve the problem,'' said the former Ontario premier, who has spent a week here trying to forge a truce in a violent dispute over native rights.

``Mediation has run its course with respect to the short-term fishery. I delayed my departure. I tried to create some momentum and trust among the parties, but that was not possible."

Rae left his Miramichi hotel at 10 last night, just hours after Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal warned that he was prepared to resume the controversial raids that have ended with injury several times.

``My patience is at the end'' Dhaliwal told reporters in Ottawa.

``If we don't have this resolved very quickly, I said I would take action and I will.''

Ovide Mercredi, of the Assembly of First Nations, last night asked Canadians to pray for the people of this reserve.

``I'm calling upon the Canadian people to pray for this community and for their politicians so they use reason, not violence,'' Mercredi said in an emotional address on the shore of Miramichi Bay.

``This community has done everything. They don't deserve to be humiliated by anybody, least of all the government of Canada.''

Mercredi and Dhaliwal continued to exchange letters by fax late last night, even as people here lined the shore of Miramichi Bay, searching the darkness for any sign of a new raid.

Burnt Church and Ottawa have been locked in a battle over native fishing rights for more than a year after they took different views of a Supreme Court decision recognizing Mi'kmaq people have the right to fish commercially.

Burnt Church believes that the ruling gives it the right to regulate its own fishery - and establish a second lobster season on Miramichi Bay.

 


`I'm calling upon the Canadian people to pray for this community and for their politicians so they use reason, not violence. This community has done everything. They don't deserve to be humiliated by anybody, least of all the government of Canada.'
- Ovide Mercredi


Dhaliwal says the band must still follow federal regulations and cannot fish for lobster outside the regular season.

Last fall, non-native fishermen destroyed 4,000 native lobster traps in a raid on the bay that sparked three nights of violence.

Burnt Church began fishing lobster again last month. Fisheries officers have tried to clamp down on the native fishery by seizing traps and boats and arresting fishermen.

The raids have turned increasingly violent, with native boats repeatedly swamped, and people on both sides sent to hospital.

The mediation crumbled after a day of tough talk from all parties.

Commercial fishermen threatened to pull native traps out of the water themselves if fisheries officers don't immediately sweep the bay.

``It's an insult, a joke'' said one fishermen as he left a union meeting yesterday afternoon.

``There should be no traps in the water,'' said another. ``We have given them time and more time and now the time is over.''

But Burnt Church Chief Wilbur Dedam said he won't bow to pressure from Dhaliwal or non-native fishermen.

``I'm really getting tired of threats,'' he said.

``The fishermen already made their livelihood. They should just leave us alone. It's time we made our livelihood. We aren't hurting nobody.''

Both sides claimed last night that they offered to compromise on the issue.

Dedam pointed out that Burnt Church offered to close its fishing season more than three weeks early, on Oct. 7, and to establish joint fishery patrols with federal officials.

Dhaliwal pointed out that he accepted the band's choice for negotiator and that he was willing to allow some fishing, if the band agreed to fish fewer traps.

Just one night before, Rae suggested a deal was in the works to resolve the issue.

But that plan fell apart by mid-day yesterday.

The next big development in the ongoing dispute will come at 10 a.m. today, when a federal court judge rules on whether Dhaliwal can continue to seize native boats and traps.

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