The Nova Scotia RCMP confirmed Friday the arrest of 21 people in recent weeks following violent acts at a lobster pound targeting Mi’kmaw moderate livelihood harvesters.
“The arrests have been ongoing since the start of the investigation,” RCMP Sgt. Andrew Joyce said.
On the night of Oct. 13, about 200 non-Indigenous fishermen and their supporters converged on the facility in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., which was storing lobster caught by harvesters with the Sipekne’katik First Nation during their moderate livelihood fishery.
Photos posted on social media showed lobster strewn about the facility. The large group also prevented employees from leaving the building, which was damaged by the crowd.
The pound was burned to the ground early on Oct. 17.
The non-Indigenous fishers are upset over the fact that Mi’kmaq have the constitutionally-protected inherent right to catch and sell fish based on treaties made in 1760 and 1761.
A 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision upheld their right to fish for a moderate livelihood.
A second ruling from the court said that Ottawa can impose on the treaty right and regulate the fishery for important reasons like conservation but would have to justify those infringements.
On Friday, the Mounties issued a brief statement with photos, saying they were seeking public’s help in identifying suspects who engaged in criminal activity. The grainy photos show several men, some of them holding flashlights as they reach into a crate filled with lobster.
— RCMP, Nova Scotia (@RCMPNS) December 11, 2020
Joyce said the arrests were made sometime between the confrontation in Middle West Pubnico and this week. He said charges will be laid and more arrests are expected.
The vandalism at the lobster pound on Oct. 13 followed a similar incident five hours earlier at a different lobster pound about 100 kilometres away in New Edinburgh, N.S., which was also ransacked.
At the time, the RCMP faced criticism from First Nations leaders who accused officers of standing by while the two pounds were vandalized and the lobster catches were destroyed or released.
One suspect was later charged with arson after a van was set on fire.
In late October, a man was arrested for allegedly assaulting Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack after a large crowd gathered at the New Edinburgh lobster pound on Oct. 14, a day after the altercation at the two pounds.
On Nov. 14, the RCMP announced that a 74-year-old Nova Scotia man from Digby County had been charged with two counts of assault, both unrelated to Sack’s case.
On Nov. 30, the RCMP said an Indigenous band councillor had been charged with unsafe operation of a vessel following a Sept. 20 incident on St. Marys Bay, where the self-regulated Mi’kmaw lobster fishery opened on Sept. 17.
As well, a 26-year-old fisher from Yarmouth County was charged with the same offence in relation to an Oct. 12 incident on St. Marys Bay. And a 42-year-old man was charged with disobeying an interim injunction prohibiting interference with the Mi’kmaw fishery.
On Dec. 4, the Mounties said a 49-year-old Nova Scotia man had been charged with assaulting a woman on Oct. 14 in New Edinburgh.