N.S. Indigenous lobster fishery: RCMP leadership to address Mounties response to violence

The head of the RCMP is set to address the force’s response to the week of violence against Indigenous lobster fisheries in Nova Scotia.

A press release issued on Wednesday says that RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Deputy Commissioner Brian Brennan will address the media Wednesday afternoon.

Nova Scotia’s Indigenous communities have faced violent and heated opposition from mostly non-Indigenous commercial fishers since the Sip’knekatik First Nation launched its self-regulated moderate livelihood fishery in September.

RCMP have been heavily criticized for their officers appearing to stand by during confrontations between non-Indigenous fishers and the Mi’kmaw fishers, or only intervening when physical violence appeared imminent.

Traps laid by Indigenous fishers have been repeatedly cut or damaged.

The violence culminated on Oct. 13, with mobs of as many 200 people swarming two lobster pounds in southwestern Nova Scotia.

At a facility in New Edinburgh, N.S., the crowd removed and damaged video cameras then ransacked the lobster pound and storage facility where the lobster catch was to be housed.

A van at the facility was set on fire.

RCMP have charged 31-year-old Michael Burton Nickerson from Yarmouth County with arson causing damage to property in relation to the incident.

Later that night, the same thing occurred at a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., an Indigenous fisher told Global News.

Mi’kmaw fisherman Jason Marr and others were forced to take cover inside the lobster pound as the building’s windows were smashed out and Marr’s vehicle was damaged, he said.

“They vandalized (my van) and they were peeing on it, pouring things into the fuel tank, cutting electrical wires,” Marr told Global News by phone on Wednesday. He also claimed that they smashed the windows of the van, and said that he saw them kicking, punching and hitting it with objects.

Marr alleges the non-Indigenous fishers threatened to “burn” his group out of the building if they didn’t leave and allow them to seize the lobster catch.

“I thought they were going to kill me,” the Mi’kmaw fisherman said.

In both incidents and in subsequent standoffs between the two sides RCMP officers have been accused of doing little to stop the violence.

Marr told Global News last week that despite calling 911 multiple times, Marr say the RCMP took two hours to arrive.

Nearly “every single window” at the lobster pound was smashed in as men attempted to gain access to the building. Marr says the RCMP stood there and watched the vandalism of his vehicle and the building he was inside.

It was only a few hours later that RCMP came and talked to him.

“They told us that the only way that this was gonna come to any kind of end was if I hand over my lobsters to them,” he said.

Marr refused and the RCMP left for a short time before eventually coming back.

“That’s when they came in and told me ‘that there is over 120 of them out here. There’s nothing we can do to protect you. All we can do is get you out of here and leave. We can’t protect you,’” he said.

Eventually, the group was forced to leave. Marr claims the non-Indigenous fishermen destroyed his catch, which he estimated was probably worth $40,000.

The facility that Marr took cover in was later destroyed by what police called a “suspicious” fire on Saturday.

A man was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries that are believed to be related to the fire. The man is considered a person of interest in the case.

“It seems like the police officers standing there are just standing by. You’re not there to protect anyone and that’s stressful for our fishermen,” said Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack at a press conference on Monday in Indian Brook, N.S.

Although RCMP in Nova Scotia have since been cleared to call on RCMP officers from P.E.I. and New Brunswick in order to bolster the numbers able to respond to incidents of violence, it remains to be seen if the Mounties will change their response.

Global News will stream the press conference at 1 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. AT Wednesday.

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