Nova Scotia

DFO must consider fisherman's charter rights in licence fight

Lobster fisherman Dana Robinson has won the right to have his request for an ongoing medical substitute operator reconsidered by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Robinson has a disability that makes it impossible to operate a boat himself.

Department ordered to review N.S. lobster fisherman's request to outsource work

Dana Robinson's boat is shown in Granville Ferry, N.S. He can only stand for a few hours a day and can't operate the boat himself. (Submitted by Dana Robinson)

The Fisheries Department has been ordered to reconsider the case of a disabled Nova Scotia fisherman who is challenging a federal rule that prevents him from hiring someone to catch lobster under his licence.  

Dana Robinson of Parkers Cove has a medical condition affecting his leg that hinders his ability to stand on a boat for long periods of time.

His boat was operating in the Bay of Fundy under a DFO provision that allows fishermen to designate a substitute operator once they provide adequate medical proof of their condition.

The provision, however, only allows the substitution for five years.

The time limit doesn't sit well with Robinson. Disabilities, he said, "last a lifetime."

"So I don't know how you set five years on that," he said. "There's no more licences being made. And that's where I came from. This is what we did all our life. We're fishermen and that's what we do."

Extension request denied

DFO's deputy minister turned down Robinson's request for an extension in March 2019.

Robinson, 60, filed for a judicial review of the decision in Federal Court on the grounds that the decision was discriminatory and his charter rights were being violated. 

In a Sept. 30 judgment, Justice Richard Southcott set aside the deputy minister's decision and ordered the application be reconsidered to ensure Robinson's charter rights are affected "as little as possible".

Robinson's lawyer, Richard Norman, welcomed the decision.

"It's about discrimination. It's about discriminating against fishermen who have a disability and who otherwise are in total control of their business and deciding on every day-to-day issue relating to their fishing enterprise," he said. 

Norman said rather than celebrating the ability of fishermen with disabilities to overcome challenges, DFO is telling them to "get out of the industry" because they can't physically be on the vessel. 

DFO 'considering its options'

In a statement Monday, DFO said it is "considering its options regarding the Federal Court ruling on the case of Dana Robinson" and would not be making any further comments.

Norman said the key question is what the new decision will be and how the deputy minister will accommodate Robinson's rights. 

"And you can be sure Mr. Robinson is going to be scrutinising whatever decision is made because it has an impact — not just on him and his business and his livelihood, but for other individuals in his circumstance," said Norman.

Robinson is not alone in his plight. Norman said he filed another challenge a few weeks ago for an individual in a similar situation.  

Robinson said he believes the five-year limitation should never have been a consideration in the first place. 

About the Author

Vernon Ramesar

Reporter/Editor

Vernon Ramesar is a reporter and video and radio journalist originally based in Trinidad. He now lives in Halifax.

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