Nova Scotia

Fisheries rights trial for 4 Mi'kmaw fishermen set to go ahead in September

The trial of four Mi'kmaw fishermen accused of illegal fishing in September 2019 will go ahead this fall after being delayed earlier this month.

Trial was expected to start this month but was delayed by dispute over agreed statement of facts

Ashton Bernard, 30, is one of four Mi'kmaw fishermen who will argue in court in September that they have a treaty right to fish outside commercial seasons. (The Canadian Press)

The trial of four Mi'kmaw fishermen accused of illegal fishing in Nova Scotia will go ahead this fall after being delayed earlier this month.

The trial for Ashton Joseph Bernard, 31; Arden Joseph Bernard, 22; Rayen Gage Frances, 22; and Zachery Cuevas Nicholas, 34, was scheduled to begin May 21 in Bridgewater provincial court.

Federal Crown prosecutor Denis Lavoie was expected to enter an agreed statement of facts into the record before closing the Crown's case. Arguments were then expected to be heard over whether the four men had a treaty right to fish when they were arrested and charged in September 2019.

But the trial was delayed after defence lawyer Michael McDonald tried to back out of the agreed statement of facts, which he had signed in January.

In the statement, the men admitted they were aboard the vessel Charlene Helen off Pinkneys Point, N.S., between Sept. 6-7, 2019. That is in the lucrative lobster fishing area 34, which was closed at the time.

According to the statement, when the boat came into port, Fisheries officers seized 2,560 lobster and 32 traps. The crustaceans were returned to the water.

The men were to base their defence on a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that fishermen from Atlantic First Nations have the right to fish for a moderate livelihood under treaties signed in the 1760s.

Just before the trial was set to begin last week, McDonald told Judge Paul Scovil that he should have had more input on behalf of his clients in regard to the statement of facts. He did not specify what he might want to add to the statement.

The lawyers were given a week to sort out their differences. They returned to court Friday.

McDonald accepted that the original agreed statement of facts could be introduced into the record, allowing the Crown to close its case. 

The trial was rescheduled for Sept. 13.

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