Paul sees some hope for deal on native fishery

The Chronicle Herald
By STEVE PROCTOR/ Truro Bureau
Thursday, April 5, 2001

Millbrook. There may be movement in the standoff between the federal government and native bands throughout Atlantic Canada over fishing rights. Less than a week after suggesting the sides in a dispute over fishing deals were deadlocked, Millbrook Chief Lawrence Paul said Wednesday an agreement may still be possible if federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal intervenes directly. 

“I spoke on the phone with the minister for a half-hour (Tuesday) night. He didn’t promise anything, but we had a frank discussion. . . . I think he now has a better understanding of where we are coming from,” Chief Paul said. 

Fishing deals signed last year with 33 of 35 native bands in Atlantic Canada expired March 31. No band has signed a new agreement. 

The sticking point in discussions has been whether wording in a new deal compromises centuries-old treaty rights to fish. 

Ottawa has said it is prepared to stick in a clause indicating the deals won’t diminish or extinguish native rights, but Chief Paul said native groups are worried a “without-prejudice” clause would come back to haunt native people if the agreements were ever to end up before the courts. 

A native version of the deal has already been turned down by bureaucrats within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but Chief Paul said the minister asked Tuesday to have a copy of their proposal sent directly to him.

“He can resolve this thing before the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City later this month and avoid having some journalists from a foreign country asking the prime minister embarrassing questions about the country’s relationship with its native peoples,” Chief Paul said. 

Mr. Dhaliwal said Wednesday he’s added a clause to the government’s offer which makes it clear that signing an agreement will not extinguish treaty rights. 

“I think I’ve gone as far as I can on these clauses,” he said, adding that his talks with Chief Paul were positive. 

The lobster season opens May 1. Both sides say they are hoping to prevent the violence that erupted on fishing grounds in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia last year. 

Figures released Tuesday show that Ottawa spent $13 million last year on enforcement measures in Burnt Church, N.B., and St. Marys Bay. 

With Brian Underhill, Ottawa bureau