New Brunswick

Fish processor testifies against RCMP over Shippagan riots that destroyed his plant

A Moncton court has begun hearing a lawsuit against the RCMP that alleges the force didn't do its job during the 2003 riots in Shippagan that destroyed the Daley Brothers fish plant and warehouse, several crab fishing boats and hundreds of traps.

Force is accused of negligence in $38-million lawsuit by owners of bankrupt fish plant

Along with the Daley Brothers fish plant and warehouse, boats and traps were burned during the 2003 Shippagan riots. (CBC)

A Moncton court has begun hearing a lawsuit against the RCMP that alleges the force didn't do its job during the 2003 riots in Shippagan that destroyed the Daley Brothers fish plant and warehouse, several crab fishing boats and hundreds of traps.

Hundreds of angry fishermen from the Acadian Peninsula descended on Shippagan in May 2003 to protest against the federal government's move to reduce their crab quotas to recognize First Nations' right to live off fishing.

After the fires that destroyed the Daley Brothers plant, several rioters were brought to court and admitted their guilt.

The now-defunct Newfoundland Daley Brothers is suing the RCMP for $38 million through Deloitte, the bankruptcy trustee for the company. 

Opening statements were heard in the Court of Queen's Bench on Wednesday, and the trial is scheduled to last six weeks. 

'Lack of competency'

Deloitte lawyer Michel St-Pierre painted a picture of a lucrative crab-processing company prior to the events, saying it turned $135 million a year in profits. The plaintiff's testimony clarified in the afternoon that the company was making $135 million a year in sales, and $9 million in profits.

St-Pierre alleged the RCMP had knowledge the fires would happen and should have acted.

The morning of May 2, 2003, a Fisheries and Oceans official received information the Daley Brothers fish plant and boat would be burned and closed the department's office in Tracadie that day, said St-Pierre.

Michel St-Pierre argued the RCMP were negligent in their handling of the riots. (CBC)

That evening, protesters set fire to 150 Daley Brothers fish traps. The RCMP brought in three officers to patrol the harbour, St-Pierre said.

Then First Nations fish traps were burned, the fish plant manager was assaulted and his vehicle vandalized. 

The RCMP decision not to bring in an emergency response team at that point was a ''flagrant lack of competency,'' argued St-Pierre, because it could have prevented the subsequent fires and rioting.

Looking for money

Toni Abi Nasr, the federal Crown attorney, argued the events were unpredictable and should not be judged in hindsight.

He said the RCMP received related threats to other parts of the Acadian Peninsula that day, and a decision to call the tactical team is one that is not taken lightly. The team was eventually called in.

''The police cannot stop all crimes and it cannot be blamed for that,'' said Abi Nasr.

Abi Nasr said he believes police prevented the worst. No one was injured or died during the riots.

He accused the Daley Brothers of being after money.

''If they were properly insured we would not be here today,'' he said.

''Pretending the Shippagan fires caused the bankruptcy of the Daleys is foolish.''

Toni Abi Nasr argued the Daley Brothers were just after money. (CBC)

Abi Nasr argued the company's bankruptcy was due to several other factors and pointed out that the company gave $3.4 in dividends to its shareholders in 2003.

"Canadian taxpayers are not an insurance company, and the RCMP is not a private security,'' said Abi Nasr. 

Terry Daley, the first witness for the defence and former owner of the company will be called to testify Wednesday.

The trial is scheduled to hear between 15 and 20 witnesses. 

The company also sued the Town of Shippagan for negligence but settled out of court last year for less than $5 million. That lawsuit was originally worth $50 million.

'Shippagan was our jewel'

Wednesday afternoon the court heard testimony from Terry Daley, the former owner of the plant and first witness for the defence.

Daley said that in 2003 the company had snow crab contracts for two million pounds of crab for its Shippagan plant, including 1.6 pounds from First Nations fishermen.

Daley Brothers was operating plants in the Atlantic region and Eastern Quebec at the time, but the Shippagan plant was one of the only places with its own wharf, and its proximity to the water was an advantage.

"Shippagan was our jewel," Daley said.

Daley Brothers intended to process crab, lobster and mackerel and had hired 200 people in Shippagan in preparation for opening.

The plant was due to open any day before it was burned during the riots. 

Daley's testimony will continue when court resumes at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.