Liberal MP, senator call for public investigation into federal officers who stranded Mi’kmaw fishers

Liberal MP

A Liberal MP and a Senator are asking for an independent investigation into DFO enforcement activities. Photo: APTN.

Liberal MP Jaime Battiste says an outside investigation into an incident where federal fisheries officers stranded two Mi’kmaw fishers at a gas station without their phones or shoes needs to be conducted and should be Mi’kmaw led.

“The recent behaviour of DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] officers was reminiscent of the Starlight Tours in Saskatchewan, which resulted in deaths by freezing of Indigenous people,” said Battiste, who is from Eskasoni in Nova Scotia, in a statement on Monday. “I have spoken with experts and lawyers involved with the Starlight Tours investigation, and the similarities are both, shocking and appalling.

“I have spoken to all relevant Ministers, Mi’kmaw Senators, and Mi’kmaw Chiefs, and have raised this directly to the Prime Minister – who agrees with the need for urgent action.”

On March 26, Kevin Hartling of Membertou First Nation and Blaise Syliboy of Eskasoni, said they defied a ban on fishing for baby eels, also known as elvers, in Nova Scotia. They were arrested by DFO officers who eventually left them at a gas station in the middle of the night. They said officers took their shoes and cell phones as evidence and left.

“I told him like ‘you’re really going to leave me here with no shoes at the Irving station?’” Sylliboy told APTN News. “He said ‘you know the consequences man … that’s your fault,’ and I was just like ‘man why would you leave somebody like that?’”

It was seven degrees with drizzle and fog.

DFO said it has launched an investigation into what happened and is in touch with community leadership.

Battiste said it’s time action was taken to how fisheries officers interact with Mi’kmaw people.

“It is unacceptable in the age of reconciliation that this blatant and systemic racism continues to be propagated by those in positions authority,” Battiste said in the statement. “DFO officers were negligent of their duty of care for these young men. For these reasons, the involved officers should be suspended from active duty until a full independent investigation takes place.”

Battiste and Nova Sen. Paul Prosper who is also Mi’kmaw, met with Diane Lebouthillier, minister of the DFO, about the incidents. According to Prosper’s office, she told them that she’s “committed” to a public investigation into the incidents.

Prosper also said in a statement released on Wednesday, the officers involved should be placed on administrative leave while a third party public investigation is conducted.

“DFO [Fisheries and Oceans Canada] officers are peace officers, whose mandate, per the DFO website, includes a directive to, “collect evidence of illegal activity during routine patrols and special investigations to use in court,” said Prosper. “They are meant to negotiate with suspected illegal fishers and the suitability requirements include the ability to “confront and de-escalate situations before the use of force is necessary.”

Fisher arrested by DFO on April 11 

In his statement, Prosper, who is the former regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Nova Scotia before being appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also mentioned an incident involving fisher James Nevin who posted on Facebook that he had a run in with a DFO officer and another official with Nova Scotia’s natural resources department.

In Nevin’s post, he said he was getting ready to leave a parking lot in Dartmouth when his vehicle was blocked by a truck.

“I exit my truck and go around to the back to figure out who it is and then I was hit with mase [sic] directly into my eyes, nose & mouth,” Nevin said in the post, “about 10 seconds later I was football tackled to the parking lot, I hear two voices yelling you’re under arrest, stop resisting, stop resisting) which I wasn’t resisting at all. I turn my head to the left and I was hit a second time with mase in my left ear and eyes once again.

“I was wrongfully accused of a crime I did not commit. this harassment needs to stop, I didn’t have anything in my vehicle for them to go to the extreme they did.”

APTN reached out to DFO to ask about the incident. In its response, officials said Nevin was one of four people arrested on that date. Three for fisheries violations including having 2.8 kg of baby eels which are banned.

Nevin, who told APTN he wasn’t with the three fishers, was charged with assault with a weapon [his vehicle] and obstruction after he tried to back his vehicle out. He said if they found elvers, they weren’t in his vehicle.

Prosper said what happened was abuse.

“Recognize and implement Indigenous and treaty rights related to fisheries, oceans, aquatic habitat, and marine waterways in a manner consistent with section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the federal Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples

25 years after the landmark Marshall decision,” Prosper said. “This is not happening in Nova Scotia.”

APTN also reached out to the department regarding the investigation. A spokesperson said, “Fisheries and Oceans Canada has begun investigating the incident, and more information will be shared in due course.”

“I believe that there is a peaceful path forward, but that we cannot begin down that road until we resolve the growing mistrust between Mi’kmaq and DFO,” Prosper said.

With files from Angel Moore

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on April 25 to correct information on the number of people arrested on April 11. 

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