Five weeks ago, Mic’kmaq fishers launched their boats to set lobster traps. More than 50 boats run by non-Indigenous fishers created a gauntlet to stop them. After traps had been set, their lines were cut and traps destroyed. A boat was lit on fire.
For weeks the violence and intimidation against Mic’kmaq fishers and some others in the community escalated, reaching a crescendo with an apparent arson attack against a Mic’kmaq lobster pound, which burnt to the ground. Yet despite the mounting and targeted violence against Mic’kmaq people, federal politicians were silent and the RCMP in Nova Scotia appeared to step back rather than step in.
Days before the lobster pound fire, at the same building later torched, a large group of non-Indigenous fishers threw rocks while Indigenous workers sheltered inside. Power lines were cut. A van outside was set alight. Yet video showed several RCMP officers at the event, doing little to prevent the intimidation.
News reports have cited RCMP concern for officer safety. However, given the weeks of escalation, including many days of mobs travelling the St. Mary’s Bay area to intimidate Mic’kmaq fishers, there can be no excuse that RCMP management was caught off guard. They had the time to bring in the personnel required to maintain the peace. They didn’t.
For many Canadians, it is hard to believe that had the attackers been Indigenous the RCMP would have taken the same approach. A sharp comparison can be drawn to the massive and militarized forced used against Wet’su’weten protesters in British Columbia last year, whose offense was operating a non-violent road blockade. When policing adjusts use of force depending on the race of the people to be protected or prosecuted, it is evidence of unacceptable systemic racism in policing.
Most recently, federal Ministers, including Public Security Minister Bill Blair, have rightly raised concern about the RCMP response. But pointing at police cannot be allowed to deflect attention from the failure of successive governments to prevent a situation in which RCMP response was needed. No Minister has yet accepted any responsibility for failing at reconciliation.
Over 20 years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that negotiations and treaties gave Mi’kmaq the right to fish and earn a “moderate” livelihood from selling their catches. In the two decades since then, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans failed to do the hard work of reconciling those rights with existing fishing management practices. Affirming rights to a livelihood in theory but denying them in practices is the opposite of reconciliation.
Those in media and reporting also need to examine themselves. News reporting and political columnists serve a critical role in pushing politicians to do the difficult work of governing when they would rather kick the can down the road. Even now there has been precious little comment from national columnists on the failure, over two decades, by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and its Ministers.
If Canada is to be a country of peace, reconciliation with treaty rights must become a critical task, not a political posture. News media owes it to everyone in Canada to keep federal politicians focused on the hard work of reconciliation, including RCMP reform, because the evidence is that politicians have yet to learn the lesson.
The CNC Editorial Team publishes original commentary on important current events and national issues.