Premier calls for cooler heads in heated lobster dispute

A photo of Premier Stephen McNeil
Premier Stephen McNeil Sept. 17, 2020. Photo Credit: Nova Scotia government
Ed Halverson - - LiverpoolNS | 17-09-2020

Premier Stephen McNeil has weighed in on a dispute between indigenous lobster fishers and the federal government.

Members of the Mi’kmaq community around St. Mary's Bay in Nova Scotia's south shore, have said they will start to assert their right to a make a moderate livelihood by establishing their own fishery.

That has sparked protests in recent days by non-indigenous Canadians who want the department of fisheries and oceans to pull the traps out of the water for what they’re calling illegal fishing.

During a press briefing follow Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Premier McNeil called on everyone involved to take a breath.

“But I’m asking for citizens, that cooler heads needs to prevail and be respectful in this dispute. The last thing we need is to see this escalate to the point where decisions are made that cause either public damage or private damage, or quite honestly, leaves a lasting legacy that I don’t think anyone wants,” said McNeil.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that First Nations people have the right to a communal food, social and ceremonial fishery and to make a moderate livelihood.

Two decades later, the two sides still haven’t reached an agreement on how to reconcile that decision.

Federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan released a statement on social media today expressing her deep concern of the escalating tensions.

The minister, who is also the MP for South Shore-St. Margaret’s says she is in communication with First Nations leaders on how they can resume negotiations. She calls implementing the Marshall decision critical to the work of reconciliation, which the government of Canada has established as a priority.

However, she says until those negotiations result in an agreement on how, when and where an indigenous fishery will operate, any unauthorized commercial fishing outside the season is a violation of the fisheries act and could be subject to enforcement action.

In her statement, Jordan said her department prefers negotiation to litigation to settle these longstanding issues.

When asked if there was a role for him to play in those negotiations as Nova Scotia’s minister for indigenous affairs Premier McNeil said it’s out of his hands.

“It is the responsibility of the national government to work nation to nation,” said McNeil. “They’ve made it very clear, that’s both the Mi’kmaq and the federal government, this is a relationship between both of them and I expect them to solve this in a way that respects the laws of the country.”

Reported by Ed Halverson 
Twitter: @edwardhalverson