Blair approves request to boost RCMP presence as Nova Scotia lobster fishery dispute escalates

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has greenlighted a request for additional RCMP support in Nova Scotia amid criticism that Ottawa has not done enough to protect community members embroiled in a bitter conflict over a First Nations lobster harvest in that province. 

Saturday's suspicious lobster pound fire is latest development in mounting lobster harvest conflict

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says that Nova Scotia RCMP had been increasing their presence in areas affected by the conflict day by day. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has greenlighted a request for additional RCMP support in Nova Scotia amid criticism that Ottawa has not done enough to protect community members embroiled in a bitter conflict over a First Nations lobster harvest in that province. 

"Policing in Nova Scotia is within provincial jurisdiction," Blair said in a statement released Saturday. "I have now approved a request from Nova Scotia's Attorney General to enhance the presence of contracted RCMP resources as needed in that jurisdiction in order to keep the peace."

The minister added that Nova Scotia RCMP had "increased their police presence in the affected area each day."

His office told CBC News the request was approved on Friday and that the number of officers sent to the region will be determined by the province and its RCMP.

RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Joyce would not provide specific numbers to CBC News, but said officers from local detachments, members from across Nova Scotia and officers with special training from Prince Edward Island were on the scene.

The announcement comes after a fire levelled a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., Saturday morning. 

Nova Scotia RCMP have deemed the blaze suspicious and said a man is in hospital with life-threatening injuries. Joyce said the injured individual is an "adult male who is considered a person of interest." 

The scene Saturday morning after a lobster pound burned to the ground in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., overnight, severely injuring one man. The RCMP are investigating the matter. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

The fire broke out at one of two facilities in the province's southwest region that were targeted by commercial fishermen on Tuesday protesting the "moderate livelihood" fishery launched by Sipekne'katik First Nation last month

The fishery is operating outside the federally mandated commercial season, causing many commercial lobster fishermen to worry about its impact on lobster conservation. 

The Mi'kmaw, who were storing their catches at the facilities, say they are exercising their treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, a right affirmed by a 1999 Supreme Court ruling. 

WATCH | Violence over lobster fisheries a disgrace: Indigenous services minister:

Violence over lobster fisheries a disgrace: Indigenous services minister

2 years ago
Duration 8:30
Indigenous services minister Marc Miller says urgent response is needed with Mi'kmaw fishermen under attack.

"When Canadians see events like these, rightfully they act with disgust and they expect those in positions of authority to act, and that is what Minister Blair has done," Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told CBC News. 

Miller reiterated that nation-to-nation talks are ongoing behind closed doors and said federal conversations with the commercial fishing industry will also need to happen.

Sipekne'katik chief: 'Maybe it's time for the military'

Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack said in a statement late Saturday that he is "grateful" in response to Blair's announcement. 

"While I believe some of the damage, destruction, racist behaviour, harassment and intimidation could have been addressed much earlier as we had repeatedly requested a greater police presence to protect our people and operations, we remain thankful for any and all support we receive."

Earlier on Saturday, Sack had called on Ottawa to beef up the number of officers in the area.

WATCH | Chief Mike Sack 'at a loss' after fire destroys N.S. lobster facility:

Chief Mike Sack 'at a loss' after fire destroys N.S. lobster facility

2 years ago
Duration 3:19
Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack says commercial fishermen are being 'badly influenced' amid ongoing lobster harvest dispute.

"We're not told numbers in general, but very understaffed. Like, 300 commercial fishermen on the wharf, 40 or 50 of us [and] 12 officers," Sack said during a news conference Saturday. "Maybe it's time for the military to come in and assist."

Sack has been increasingly critical of the federal government's failure to intervene in the conflict.

"You know, they're sitting in their office, safe as can be, saying we need safety out here. Send enforcement down. Like, do your job. Protect Canadians. We're all Canadians. Come here, protect us and don't just tweet about it," he said Thursday. 

In a tweet, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde said his office had contacted the RCMP and the federal government "to express First Nations' deep concern" in the wake of the blaze.

Investigations into week's incidents ongoing

The RCMP's response to the week's events — which included an assault on Chief Sack on Wednesday — initially came under fire for failing to arrest those responsible for the violence.

"We are expecting the RCMP and police services to do their jobs and keep people safe," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

"I think there's been some concern that that hasn't been done well enough and that's certainly something we will be looking at very closely."

On Saturday, a Digby County, N.S., man was charged and arrested in relation to the assault. 

Investigations continue into Tuesday's lobster pound raids, which left vehicles vandalized and facilities damaged.

Joyce defended the force's efforts to keep the peace rather than carry out arrests, telling CBC News Saturday that officers simply "did what they were trained to do in a position of being severely outnumbered."

Blair said investigative teams are currently gathering evidence "to support any additional criminal charges necessary" and said provincial authorities will release further details as they become available.

With files from CBC's Alex Cooke