Nova Scotia

UN peacekeepers won't monitor Sipekne'katik fishery, says expert

An international expert on conflict resolution says there is "zero chance" the United Nations will provide a Nova Scotia First Nation with peacekeepers to police its contentious lobster fishery.

'I'll just put it bluntly: there is zero chance of the UN intervening,' says John McGarry

RCMP officers stand on the Saulnierville wharf in front of supporters of a Mi'kmaw fishery on Sept. 20, 2020. The Sipekne'katik moderate livelihood lobster fishery launched three days before that. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

An international expert on conflict resolution says there is "zero chance" the United Nations will provide a Nova Scotia First Nation with peacekeepers to police its contentious lobster fishery.

The Sipekne'katik First Nation said last week that when it resumes an out-of-season lobster fishery in June, it will call on the UN.

Chief Mike Sack said Canadian authorities didn't do enough to respond to the sometimes-violent protests that broke out when it launched its first self-regulated "moderate livelihood" lobster fishery in September 2020.

Queens University political scientist John McGarry said Sack might have "good political reasons" for making the request, but it won't happen.

"I'll just put it bluntly: there is zero chance of the UN intervening with peacekeepers," he said.

Why the UN is unlikely to oblige

McGarry said that's due to several reasons, including that Canada would have to agree to the request and then invite peacekeepers in.

"The Canadian government is not going to consent to that because that would mean it was incapable itself of looking after this issue, and that would be a profoundly embarrassing abdication of its responsibilities as a government, so it's not going to agree to it," he said.

Failing that, the UN Security Council would have to pass a resolution without a veto from a permanent member.

Neither China nor Russia want to see the UN intervene in domestic affairs "because they don't want that sort of precedent to come back and bite them," said McGarry.

In a statement to CBC News, Sipekne'katik legal counsel Rosalie Francis said the band remains committed to approaching the UN.

"There are many avenues within the United Nations that provide remedy for Indigenous peoples outside the Security Council which oversees the Peacekeepers," she said.

"There are a number of bodies that can and do enforce international law. We will be citing a series of UN conventions and declarations that Canada has committed to and participates in and as such must remain compliant."

Sipekne'katik scored PR coup, says prof

Whether seeking UN peacekeepers is realistic, McGarry said the tactic achieves one goal.

"He's just got himself a big piece of publicity, international publicity," he said. "For example, the article I read was in The Guardian newspaper, which is read worldwide. Asking for international intervention in Canadian domestic affairs is something that gets the attention of outsiders."

Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack says Canadian authorities didn't do enough to protect Mi'kmaw fishermen during their moderate livelihood lobster fishery last year. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Sack argues the band's moderate livelihood lobster fishery is a treaty right and Canada has no say over it.

The right to fish for a moderate livelihood was recognized — but never defined — by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999.

Sack rejects a follow-up ruling from the court that the federal government has the authority to regulate its moderate livelihood fishery.

In March, Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said her department will not license any Indigenous moderate livelihood fishery in Atlantic Canada this year, unless it operates within the commercial season.

RCMP officers position themselves between Mi'kmaw and commercial fishers on the Saulnierville wharf on Sept. 20, 2020. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

The position sided with a key demand from the region's commercial fishing industry and angered Indigenous leaders.

Commercial fishermen and their supporters say Indigenous moderate livelihood lobster fisheries outside the commercial season are illegal.

Their anger erupted when Sipekne'katik launched the first moderate livelihood lobster fishery in St Marys Bay. There were confrontations on wharfs, lobster pounds holding lobster harvested by Indegenous fishermen were blockaded and vandalized, and there were scuffles and charges laid against both sides.

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