Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod on Saturday joined those calling for protection of Mi’kmaq fishers in their dispute with non-Indigenous commercial lobster fishers.
A fire destroyed a lobster facility in southwest Nova Scotia early on Saturday, days after the same building had been raided and vandalized by hundreds of commercial fishers.
The building was used by the Sipekne’katik First Nation’s fishers to store their catches.
The First Nation launched a Mi’kmaq-regulated, rights-based lobster fishery last month after two decades of arguments over how a 1999 Supreme Court ruling – allowing Indigenous fishers to earn a “moderate livelihood” – should be interpreted.
The fishery began operations outside the federally mandated commercial season. Non-Indigenous commercial fishers, citing concerns about the ecological impact of operating outside that season, responded with a pressure campaign that has increasingly involved intimidation and violence.
Indigenous leaders say the Mi’kmaq are enduring racist hate crimes.
Saturday’s fire, deemed suspicious by police, left one man in hospital with life-threatening injuries. Police said that man was a “person of interest” in their investigation.
Amid criticism of an RCMP response characterized as inadequate by the First Nation, Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack on Saturday urged the federal government to “step in and make sure safety is ensured.”
McLeod, the NWT’s Liberal MP, subsequently joined that call.
“Like many Northerners, I have been deeply troubled by the news of Mi’kmaq fishers being harassed as they try to exercise their treaty rights.
It is critical that all parties come together and reach a solution that upholds these rights and allows for an urgent de-escalation,” McLeod wrote on Facebook.
“It is equally important that law enforcement officers must do everything possible to ensure the safety of the people on the ground, and that the perpetrators responsible for this harassment of the Mi’kmaq are brought to justice.
“I have raised these concerns directly with both the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and I will continue to monitor the developments in Nova Scotia.”
The federal public safety minister, Bill Blair, earlier approved a request from Nova Scotia to increase the RCMP presence in the affected region. Blair said the tensions “cannot continue” and “the temperature of this dispute must be lowered, now.”
Erin O’Toole, the Conservative leader, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had abdicated responsibility for tackling the violence. Chief Sack had on Friday said Trudeau must do more than send tweets acknowledging the problem.
Jagmeet Singh, the NDP leader, described the violence as terrorism against the Mi’kmaq.