Canada Mi'kmaq fisherman intends to fight federal charges alleging illegal lobster catch
Bellegarde says calm needed in lobster dispute ahead of work to define key right
'Defining that moderate livelihood is the next big step going forward,' said the Indigenous leader.In an interview with The West Block's Mercedes Stephenson, Bellegarde said the situation which saw RCMP standing by as a violent mob attacked two Mi'kmaw lobster fishing compounds in southwestern Nova Scotia last week is "not acceptable.
HALIFAX — A fisherman from a Mi'kmaq community in Cape Breton says he intends to plead not guilty to charges of illegal fishing after his lobster traps were seized last year by federal fisheries officers in southwestern Nova Scotia.
Ashton Bernard, 30, of Eskasoni First Nation, said in a telephone interview Monday he will rely on the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Donald Marshall Jr. case.
The Supreme Court ruled that East Coast Indigenous communities have the right to fish for a moderate livelihood, citing peace treaties signed by the Crown in the 1760s.
Mobs are attacking Indigenous fisheries in Nova Scotia. Here’s what’s going on
Tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishermen have come to a head over fishing rights in Nova Scotia — a dispute that has a history spanning hundreds of years. In 1999, Canada's Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case R. v. Marshall that several treaties signed in the 1760s granting the Mi'kmaq the right to harvest and sell fish were still valid. The over 250-year-old agreement, known as the Peace and Friendship Treaties, specified that the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq had the right to earn a "moderate livelihood." The Sipekne'katik First Nation would go on to open its own fishery in St. Mary's Bay, N.S.
However, a subsequent clarification of the court's decision also affirmed Ottawa's right to regulate the fishery to ensure conservation of the resource.
Bernard said he believes the first portion of the Supreme Court decision will prevail.
"The highest court in Canada affirmed our treaty rights and we're allowed to fish under a moderate livelihood. I wasn't going to wait around for the government to tell us when to fish or not," he said.
"I told the boys 'Let's go out and see how it goes,' and now we're into court."
Bernard's case is proceeding amid tensions over the launching on Sept. 17 of a livelihood fishery by the Sipekne’katik First Nation, on the 21st anniversary of the Marshall decision.
Since the Sipekne'katik fishery began, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan has confirmed she is committed to respecting the Mi'kmaq treaty right to pursue a moderate livelihood. Her officials have been in talks with the band to define the fishery.
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The seizures of Bernard's catch occurred Sept. 7, 2019 when Bernard says fisheries officers raided his boat in the early hours of the morning and removed 32 crates of lobster.
He said he had caught the lobster after fishing off Pinkneys Point, N.S., about 20 kilometres south of Yarmouth, for two days. He says his boat had a crew of four and was using 80 traps, and he says when he was approached by DFO officers on the water, he informed them he was fishing under provisions of the Marshall case.
Bernard was in Yarmouth provincial court on Monday to face charges of fishing outside of the closed federal season, lobster fishing without authorization and possessing lobster in contravention of the Fisheries Act.
Two other First Nations fishermen, Zachery Nicholas and Rayen Francis from Pictou Landing First Nation, were also charged with those three offences.
Ashton Bernard's younger brother Arden Bernard is facing the same charges, and the brothers are also both charged with violating Aboriginal communal fishing licensing regulations.
Nova Scotia restaurants boycott lobster in response to violence against the Mi'kmaq
HALIFAX — Kourosh Rad, owner of Garden Food Bar and Lounge in Halifax, says he removed his popular lobster-based menu items in support of the province's Mi'kmaq fishers. The Mi'kmaq are in a dispute over fishing rights in southwestern Nova Scotia and have been targeted recently with violence and intimidation. Rad is among a few restaurant owners in the province who have responded to the conflict by boycotting lobster. “The lobster that we areThe Mi'kmaq are in a dispute over fishing rights in southwestern Nova Scotia and have been targeted recently with violence and intimidation. Rad is among a few restaurant owners in the province who have responded to the conflict by boycotting lobster.
Another man, Michael Surette, is facing the same charges in the matter, and he said in a teleconference with the judge that he intends to hire a lawyer.
The lawyer for the Indigenous fishers, Michael McDonald, and the federal prosecutor agreed to set a date of Dec. 1 for election and plea in the case.
Before becoming a fisherman, Bernard played major junior hockey for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the Shawinigan Cataractes. He says he entered the fishing industry with a snow crab licence obtained by his band, and shifted into lobster fishing last year.
Bernard said he is currently fishing for lobster in St. Peters Bay in another of the recently opened livelihood fisheries.
"It's been 21 years since the Marshall decision, and we didn't want to wait another 21 years," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2020.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press
For Mi'kmaq fishers, dreams of a peaceful harvest on N.S. waters repeatedly dashed .
HALIFAX — Mi'kmaw fisherman Robert Syliboy says he dreams of peacefully trapping lobster off the shores of southwestern Nova Scotia. But the hopes of the 27-year-old from the Sipekne'katik First Nation have been repeatedly dashed by the vandalism and arson that has descended on his community after it launched a self-regulated fishery in St. Marys Bay. One of his boats was burned at a wharf on Oct. 5. "Everything I worked for was right there," heBut the hopes of the 27-year-old from the Sipekne'katik First Nation have been repeatedly dashed by the vandalism and arson that has descended on his community after it launched a self-regulated fishery in St. Marys Bay.