RCMP has failed to protect Mi’kmaw nation’s right to fish

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-10-29 19:11 [p.1465]

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise virtually during Adjournment Proceedings to address a question I asked on October 19, not that long ago, in relation to the ongoing conflicts between the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia and non-indigenous fishermen, and more specifically in the context of systemic racism.
We know that the name Donald Marshall, Jr., as I said on October 19, will always be remembered in Canada as synonymous with injustice and systemic racism. He was jailed for 11 years for a crime he did not commit, and when he was finally out of jail, he continued to play a significant role in indigenous rights for the Mi’kmaq people. Two different court cases bear his name.

The Marshall case stands for the proposition that, of course, the treaties of peace and friendship of 1760-61 established that Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy rights to land and resources were never surrendered. Donald Marshall took the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada because the simple act of fishing eels was considered out of season, even though it was completely within Mi’kmaq fishing rights.

The systemic racism that I want to address is deeper than the RCMP’s actions in failing to protect the Mi’kmaq lobster catch or the lobster pound in West Pubnico, where the Mi’kmaq catch was being stored. As we know, it was burned to the ground while the RCMP stood by. In my question on October 19, I asked why there is never any shortage of well-equipped RCMP officers to move in to arrest non-violent indigenous protesters protecting their land and resources anywhere across Canada, but particularly in my home province of British Columbia, yet there is somehow a failure of the RCMP to protect indigenous property. It is much deeper than these several episodes.

Let us look at the statistics of how injunctions are granted. It is injunction law that allows RCMP officers to be converted from public security and public safety officers into essentially the private police of corporations operating on indigenous lands. The Yellowhead Institute, in a study from October 2019, noted that when corporations go to court and seek injunctions to prevent indigenous people from interrupting their commercial enterprises, corporations succeed before the courts in gaining injunctions 76% of the time. In contrast, when indigenous people go to court to seek injunctions to protect their land from corporate operations, they are rejected 81% of the time. Thus, the system in which we operate is, again, systemically racist in that the RCMP are far more likely to show up for corporations.

In the case of the Elsipogtog, there were indigenous actions against fracking back in 2013 in New Brunswick. Mi’kmaq residents, in full possession of their rights, in a non-violent protest against fracking, had the police show up with attack dogs. They showed up well armed and arrested people. They arrested them forcefully. This is quite an outrage when we look at the history of how the RCMP operate to enforce injunctions to protect resource-extracting companies. Their rights to extract resources come right up against indigenous rights recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada, yet over and over again, it is indigenous people who are not protected by the RCMP while corporations are.

When we look at what has happened in British Columbia, certainly injunctive relief was available—

Joël Lightbound (Louis-Hébert)
2020-10-29 19:15 [p.1465]

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to see you even through the use of technology. I also want to thank the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands whom I am pleased to see again.

As usual, she is raising very important questions. I very much appreciated the information she provided on the injunctions and the disproportionate share that is granted to the corporations. It is an interesting element that I will look into. It is true that systemic racism is not limited to the actions of the RCMP. It is much more widespread than that. It is institutional. We acknowledge it, we condemn it and we are working to resolve it.

I also want to thank her for allowing me to say a few words about the situation in Nova Scotia. This situation happened in the wake of the implementation of livelihood fishing by the Sipekne’katik nation. I will begin by saying a few words about the criminal acts that were committed during the dispute between the first nation and the commercial fishers.

Our government clearly condemns the racism, violence and crimes committed during this conflict. We implore all those involved to support constructive efforts for peaceful de-escalation and dialogue. Moreover, all of this is taking place while we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our government remains committed to reconciliation and the development of a new and improved relationship with indigenous peoples, one based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and collaboration.

While the RCMP has faced complex issues this year, it continues to work to build meaningful, lasting relationships with indigenous peoples. It would be a shame to let the criminal acts committed in this conflict undermine these efforts. Any lasting resolution to this dispute must be based on the recognition of the legitimate Mi’kmaq treaty rights.

This means that the threats, racism, violence and intimidation must stop. The primary role of any police force is to protect the public and enforce the laws, including the Criminal Code of Canada. All Canadians enjoy the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and demonstration. They should be able to exercise those freedoms safely.

However, resorting to violence and putting lives in danger to protest a situation is totally unacceptable. The people responsible for these crimes must be held to account. The RCMP takes its role of ensuring public safety very seriously and has been on site since the start of the conflict. At the same time, the governments, namely the federal government and the government of Nova Scotia, are trying to make the parties reach a lasting solution based on the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Mi’kmaq and the treaties.

Charges have been laid and multiple investigations are under way into crimes against persons, in particular the violent assault of Chief Michael Sack. The police is also investigating crimes against property, such as the fire at the lobster pound on October 19. This is a sad episode in our collective history.
To further increase the capacity of the RCMP, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness approved a request put forward by the Attorney General of Nova Scotia to increase, as needed, the number of RCMP members under contract present in Nova Scotia so they can keep the peace as is their duty. To say that the RCMP police presence in the region is unusually high would be an understatement. It will continue to be high as long as necessary. The increased and enhanced presence of the RCMP includes officers in uniform ensuring greater visibility of law enforcement and carrying out random patrols in communities.
In addition to officers in uniform there are more strategic tactical operations officers from several authorities. Furthermore, RCMP officers patrol the waters in the region depending on the needs and the RCMP emergency response team has a vessel for immediate deployment if necessary.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-10-29 19:20 [p.1466]

Madam Speaker, I want to contrast for parliamentarians the notion of indigenous people having the right to a moderate livelihood in the lobster fishery of Nova Scotia with Clearwater Seafoods. Its founder, John Risley, has a net worth of $1.2 billion from fishing in Mi’kmaq waters. Clearwater Seafoods has been found guilty by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of gross violations of conservation rules, such as leaving lobster traps on the ocean floor over a period of years, allowing for an illegal catch to take place. Clearwater Seafoods does not have the RCMP showing up to give it a hard time. Clearwater Seafoods takes a huge resource, and I am not against that. I just think the contrast between corporate rights and exploitation and the way indigenous people have been treated in this, seeking a moderate livelihood, is a scandal. I would ask all of us to—

Joël Lightbound (Louis-Hébert)
2020-10-29 19:20 [p.1466]

Madam Speaker, one minute is not very much time to talk about the serious issues raised by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
At the request of the Nova Scotia government, the RCMP was sent to help protect people and maintain law and order. That is what everyone should expect here. We need to de-escalate the situation. That is vital. The RCMP will play a role in that.