Mi’kmaw fisher hopes his treaty rights will prevail at trial

Matthew Cope was charged in August 2020.


Matt Cope has already told the court that he was harvesting lobster in August 2020 when he was charged.

While the fisher from Millbrook First Nation admits to that – Cope, 36, says his treaty rights should protect him from a conviction.

Cope appeared at the provincial court in Digby, Nova Scotia where the Crown proved he violated the fisheries act.

Cope said that’s what he was hoping for. He said he’ll submit a defence to show officers violated his treaty rights.

“I was 14 years old when the Donald Marshall Jr. decision was made,” says Cope who is defending himself at the trial. “It’s been 20-something years, now I’m 36 years old, if I keep waiting, I won’t get to experience my rights in my lifetime.”

Officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, also known as DFO, testified that on Aug. 28 and 29, 2020, they seized 90 lobster traps from the Bay of Fundy.

Copies of Cope’s treaty card were tied inside each trap, to indicate he was treaty fishing.

In court, Cope, who is defending himself, questioned the DFO officers who said they were enforcing the Fisheries Act.

“I wanted them to say out loud that they knew before they took my traps that I was fishing them under my treaty right and if they did, then why would they still take them knowing that that’s hindering me from exercising my treaty right,” he says.

For years, Mi’kmaw harvesters have been pushing back against Canada on fishing rights.

They have a right to fish under the Peace and Friendship Treaties signed in the 1700s.

That treaty was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999, known as the Marshall decision.

The next trial date will be determined at the end of December.

Video Journalist / Halifax

Angel Moore is a proud Cree from the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba. Angel grew up in Winnipeg and has a Journalism degree from the University of King’s College. She also has a degree from Dalhousie University in International Development Studies and Environmental Sustainability. Angel joined APTN News in June 2018 as the correspondent in the Halifax bureau and covers Atlantic Canada.

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