As It Happens·Q&A

First Nation chief says he fears for his people after attacks on Mi'kmaw lobster fishery

Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack says he worries someone will get hurt or worse after hundreds of commercial fisherman stormed two Mi'kmaw lobster facilities on Tuesday, hurled threats, set a van ablaze and stole hundreds of lobsters. 

Tuesday's raids show commercial fisherman will do 'whatever it takes' to stop Sipekne'katik fishery: chief

Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack says he's afraid someone will get hurt or worse after hundreds of commercial fisherman raided two Mi'kmaw fishing facilities in southwest Nova Scotia, making threats and causing damage. (CBC)

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Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack says he worries someone will get hurt or worse after hundreds of commercial fisherman stormed two Mi'kmaw lobster facilities on Tuesday.

During a chaotic evening of violence, much of it caught on camera, commercial fisherman hurled threats, set a van ablaze and stole hundreds of lobsters. 

Mi'kmaw fisherman Jason Marr filmed himself barricaded inside building, while he said mob of commercial fishermen outside were threatening to burn him out unless he handed over his lobster. 

Commercial fishermen in Nova Scotia object to the Sipekne'katik First Nation's new lobster fishery, which is based on a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Mi'kmaw treaty right to earn a "moderate livelihood" from fishing.

Nova Scotia RCMP have come under fire for not taking action against the commercial fishermen or laying any criminal charges. Police said in a statement they are investigating "mischief and threats related to the disturbance."

In an interview with CBC News, Sgt. Andrew Joyce defended the Mounties' handling of the situation.

"We were there to keep the peace and keep everyone involved as safe as possible," he said. "We live in a country that is so great people can criticize the police for their actions or what they see as their inactions."

Mike Sack, chief of the Sipekne'katik First Nation, was at the scene Tuesday, where he was seen on video fending off a commercial fisherman who grabbed ahold of his sweater. He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about what he saw. 

Chief Sack, did you ever think that the disagreements between the fishermen could turn into what we have seen in the past days?

No, I haven't. It's very unfortunate. The real part is that our problem's not with them.

What do you mean?

We're here discussing our moderate livelihood with the government, and the fishing industry is taking it upon themselves to try to interfere and interject.

Can you describe what you saw, what you understand, from the videos, and what you've been told happened in these incidents on Tuesday?

I believe right from the start, when we first issued our license, that there's been a lack of law enforcement and commercial industries making it very well-known that they're going to take the law into their own hands. There's hate crime and a lot of stuff going on that shouldn't be.

Tensions over N.S. Mi'kmaq lobster fishery escalate

3 years ago
Duration 2:01
Featured VideoA group of commercial non-Indigenous fishermen confront Indigenous lobster fishers at a Nova Scotia fishery, throwing rocks, destroying lobster and setting vehicles on fire. Tensions have been high since Mi'kmaq fishermen launched the fishery last month.

What was the threat that was posed to your members?

The threat is that they're going to do whatever it takes to stop the fishing industry or to stop our people from fishing, and [they'll do] whatever it takes to get that done. They'll do what they said.

Can you describe what happened to your members when they were in those lobster pounds?

Our people were trapped inside and there was local RCMP there that did not protect our people. The doors were kicked in. 

My greatest concern is that somebody will get badly hurt, or maybe even a loss of life. We're here to take whatever action we can to prevent that. We're just trying to promote safety for everyone involved.

Chief Sack, because it's radio and we're limited here, whatever you can do to describe what happened, it would be helpful for those listeners who haven't seen some of these really disturbing images of what happened at those two lobster pounds.

It was just mobs of commercial fishermen showing up to lobster pounds.

They started to damage one of the pounds right away.

They messed with the cooling system, the water filtration system that would kill the lobsters that were inside.

At that point, rocks were thrown, a lot of holler and name calling. That's when they started to burn one of the vans.

There was pushing and shoving. From there, when they weren't getting anywhere, when they couldn't get inside of the building, they left and went more west, I guess, to the Pubnico  lobster pound, where they took the same approach and they were successful getting inside.

They took the guys' lobsters, and I'm not sure what they might have done with those. A couple of our band members were inside the building, scared for their life. The RCMP didn't appear to be assisting them. They were just onlookers, I guess. We've had a very rough chain of events for our community.

Video shows piles of lobster strewn over the ground outside N.S. lobster pound

3 years ago
Duration 0:28
Featured VideoOn Tuesday night, a mob burned and vandalized vehicles outside a lobster pound in Southwest Nova Scotia.

There's a video of one of your members inside ... and he appears to be trapped. He's saying that he can't get out, that he's afraid what's going to happen. He opens the door at some point and a rock comes his way. What were the police doing about this? They were there at the time. 

The police have just been, all along, saying that they didn't have enough bodies on hand to enforce the situation. So they've just been, kind of — I'm not sure, you have to talk to them [about] what their approach is. They're just kind of standing around, in my view.

The RCMP have confirmed that the employees at both lobster pound locations were prevented from leaving while these mobs were there, and yet there were threats and all kinds of mischief, as it's called. The work was going on. How is that possible? How is it that the police can't protect people when they're there and there's people they know who are being threatened inside?

That's what we don't understand. That's where our frustration has come in. So we've tried all avenues today. We sent a letter off to the prime minister of Canada hoping there's something that he will do. If not, I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring.

[In] one of the videos, we can see the RCMP standing at the entrance to a facility where one of your members is barricaded inside. They appear to be preventing people from getting in the building. In another one, they're extinguishing a truck that's been set on fire. They are intervening to some extent, are they not?

There's some officers that are trying their best, yeah. I got nothing against the RCMP officers themselves. I'm just uncertain of the mandate or direction they receive. That's where my concerns are.

Written by Sheena Goodyear and Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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