'The world's watching': Mi'kmaw fishers use live broadcasts to combat violence and racism
Social media keeping tabs on tense exchanges in the absence of law enforcement in Nova Scotia
The sister of a Mi'kmaw fisherman trapped in a building and attacked by a violent mob on Oct. 14 says social media and live streaming are crucial tools to combat racism and protect supporters of Mi'kmaw fishers and their new rights-based fishery in Nova Scotia.
Jolene Marr, a fisher from Sipekne'katik First Nation, had already begun the nearly five-hour trip from her community to a lobster pound in New Edinburgh, N.S., to investigate a growing crowd of opposing, non-Indigenous fishery workers, when her car was redirected by a text from her brother.
"It said, 'They have me surrounded,' and I gasped," she said. "The next message comes in and says, 'By hundreds (of) fishermen' ... and I'm almost hysterical."
Her brother Jason Marr was storing lobster he landed under the new fishery at a different lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, when the building was stormed and vandalized. He communicated with Jolene between live streaming video from inside the building.
Jolene Marr began a Facebook live stream video that lasted 90 minutes and captured the unfolding drama. The video has since gathered 23,000 views on Facebook. It's one of nearly 30 live streams Marr has now become known for on social media platforms.
She said she began recording 15 minutes before arriving at the lobster pound "to build an audience."
"I wanted to reach as many people as possible prior to getting there so they could see the extreme of what I was driving into," she said.
"My brother was telling me on the other end of the phone that the police weren't doing anything. As a First Nations person, that didn't surprise me."
The lobster pound was later destroyed by a fire overnight on Oct. 17.
Marr said she believes that for the Mi'kmaq, documenting injustices to protect themselves and to maintain control of information has become instinctual. She said racism and violence is made worse by ignorance and a lack of education about the history of injustice toward Indigenous people and rights in Canada.
Dozens of videos, photos and screenshots of online comments circulating for weeks have captured suggestions to burn Mi'kmaw boats and vehicles, graphic descriptions of physical harm, racial slurs like "wagon burners," and suggestions that "natives go back where they came from."
In one video, captured on TikTok during heated interactions on Oct. 14 and since shared over 10,000 times, a crowd of men make racist references about a Mi'kmaw woman "casting a f--king spell" on them and "smoking the peace pipe."
Marr said she's been the target of much of this type of hatred, but believes showing an audience her point of view in real time is a practical and transparent way to educate people, while addressing the troubling realities she and her nation face.
"We've always been on the wrong side of media [coverage], on the wrong side of politics; we're always on the wrong side of everything," said Marr. "The world's watching. The world's finally getting to see the modern-day racism that the Mi'kmaw people here in Nova Scotia face every day."
Potential legal implications
David Fraser, a privacy and internet lawyer based in Halifax, calls social media use in situations like this a "significant game-changer," because of its potential to serve as evidence and influence an investigation.
"Connected to what's happening in Nova Scotia, we've seen images and videos where people in the community have recognized people, which can help with police investigations," said Fraser. "It can also help the community understand who was involved and what actually happened, which is equally as important."
A Digby County, N.S., man was charged Friday after an assault on Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack earlier in the week. A video of the assault was posted to Facebook after the incident occurred and Facebook users had identified the assailant within hours.
Fraser said live streamed videos and their comment sections can also trigger legal implications related to threats in situations where large, opposing groups are interacting and police cannot monitor the whole scene.
"If somebody makes a threat through social media, that's no different than making a threat otherwise ... and unlike threats that are uttered orally or face-to-face, when there's a video, you have a record of it," he said.
Equally as important, he said, were social media users' records of police actions in the situation.
"It's given people who have a cause [a] loudspeaker like they've never had before. But it also creates a much larger microscope in which we can scrutinize public servants like the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the RCMP."
Federal response could've been larger
Stuart Knockwood, emergency management officer for Sipekne'katik and a retired RCMP officer of 28 years, said he believes there should've been a larger presence of law enforcement at greater length since the launch of the fishery.
"When I first saw the commercial fishing boats out on the water, my first response was what is [DFO] actually doing? What is their response there? What is the on-land response?" he said.
Knockwood said the example of the attack on Chief Sack this week was an instance in which a larger police presence would've helped.
"The longer they allowed people to stay at that location without dispersing the crowd and de-escalate the situation gave it the opportunity to rise even higher," he said, adding that the same principle could be applied to the situation at large.
Knockwood said his history of policing during past fishing disputes has helped inform strategies on how to maintain a sense of calm among Mi'kmaq fishers and supporters. He said even during "quiet times" throughout the weeks-long situation, he's been making risk assessments regularly to de-escalate tense situations before they begin.
"If we can stay calm on one side and focus on the management of the other side, the cooler heads will prevail," he said.
DFO's and RCMP's responses to the tension surrounding the fishery has drawn criticism nationally and internationally. Jolene Marr said it took two hours for police to respond to the lobster pound where her brother was trapped.
Provincial RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Joyce was unable to say how long it took for officers to arrive at the location that night, but told CBC News that "timelines will be verified in our database for accuracy and will provide those once they are available."