Mi’kmaw harvesters say DFO officers took shoes, phones and left them stranded

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there will be ‘full investigation’ into the incident.

Two Mi’kmaw harvesters say officers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, commonly called DFO, left them at a gas station in the middle of the night after taking their shoes and cell phones.

“We told them that we’re not from the area, we were form Cape Breton and we had no way of contacting anyone without our phones,” said Kevin Hartling of Membertou First Nation, one of the harvesters. “I even asked them if they could supervise me while I looked through my contacts on my phone so I could get a hold of someone and they refused to do that as well.”

Hartling said they were stranded 200 km southeast of Halifax.

The two men are elver harvesters – tiny baby eels that can fetch up to $5,000 a kilogram.

The minister of DFO closed the fishery over conservation concerns and because of conflicts in the fishery between Mi’kmaw and non-Indigenous harvesters.

On the evening of March 26, Hartling and Blaise Sylliboy of Eskasoni First Nation defied the closure and went out fishing.

They were arrested and said the fisheries officers drove them to a gas station in Shelburne, Nova Scotia and left in their socks and no way to contact anyone.

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

Hartling and Sylliboy said they started walking with cardboard and plastic wrapped around their feet donated by the clerk at the gas station. The attendant wouldn’t let them stay inside the station or use the phone to call for assistance.

It was seven degrees with drizzle and fog.

“I couldn’t wait outside the Irving station, if I wait outside the Irving station and like I could have frozen to death like it was cold out,” said Sylliboy.

After walking for a few hours, a car picked them up and drove them to Shelburne where Sylliboy remembered his mother’s number and they called for help.

“People even put shoes on their dogs in the winter time,” said Hartling. “We didn’t even have that.”

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

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About 50 people, including Mi’kmaw fishers, community leaders and supporters gathered at the DFO office in Halifax.

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs called for a protest in reaction to the actions of fisheries officers.

“First thing we’re looking for is those individuals responsible to be immediately fired, from DFO and be accountable for their actions,” said Bob Gloade, chief of the Millbrook First Nation.

“The next thing we need to do is to continue to emphasize to DFO that our rights supersede the DFO rules and regulations how they manage the fisheries.”

After the protest, about 30 people made their way to where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was holding a news conference.

Trudeau said a full investigation is needed.

“The first step is making sure there is a full investigation into what happened and then as the facts are made clear, there will need to be consequences and responses,” said Trudeau.

The Assembly of Nova Scotia Chiefs is calling for an emergency meeting with the federal minister of fisheries.

DFO said the phones and shoes are evidence and will be held until any justice issues are resolved.

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