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A Nova Scotia MP is calling for an independent investigation into systemic racism within Fisheries and Oceans Canada over fisheries officers’ treatment of two young Mi’kmaq men who were arrested for fishing baby eels more than two weeks ago.

Blaise Sylliboy of Eskasoni First Nation and Kevin Hartling of Membertou First Nation were arrested in Shelburne County for fishing for elvers while the season was closed on March 26. Both men said they have a treaty right to fish for the baby eels. They say fisheries officers dropped them off at a gas station late at night without footwear or cellphones. The men, both in their 20s, told The Globe they spent hours walking overnight, worried that if they stopped, they would freeze to death.

Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier closed the elver fishery last year, and declined to reopen it this year, citing concerns about the poaching of the tiny eels, which she said is jeopardizing the conservation of the American eel species.

Liberal MP Jaime Battiste, who is Mi’kmaq, said in a statement Monday that he is horrified by the unacceptable behaviour of fisheries and conservation officers, calling them “negligent of their duty of care for these young men.” He said they should be suspended until an investigation, partly led by Indigenous people, is complete.

“It is unacceptable in the age of reconciliation that this blatant and systemic racism continues to be propagated by those in positions of authority,” said the Sydney-Victoria MP.

DFO did not provide a response by end of day. In a statement on Monday prior to the MP’s comments, DFO spokesperson Kathryn Hallett said there is no update on the investigation at this time. “We will share more information in due course,” she said.

Mr. Battiste said he spoke to experts and lawyers involved with the investigation into Starlight Tours, cases where Indigenous people froze to death after being dropped off by police on the outskirts of Saskatoon in winter, and “the similarities are both shocking and appalling.”

“DFO does not have the ability, and nor should it, to investigate itself,” he said, adding that for generations DFO officials have used unacceptable tactics to deny Mi’kmaq fishermen their treaty rights, and there is distrust in their conservation efforts. “A fair and independent process is required.”

In early April, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs demonstrated at the regional office of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Dartmouth, N.S., where they entered the building to demand action for what they say was the inhumane and racist treatment of two young fishermen. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the men’s account was “extremely troubling” and promised a thorough investigation.

Days later Ms. Lebouthillier said she was deeply troubled by the situation. “The allegations brought forward regarding the treatment they both received are simply unacceptable,” she wrote.

She said she and parliamentary secretary Mike Kelloway, an MP for Cape Breton-Canso, recently met with Mi’kmaq chiefs and everyone agreed that the matter must be treated with the “utmost seriousness.”

“I am committed to a thorough review to shed light on this matter,” she wrote. “This review has to be independent, transparent and involve leadership from Indigenous voices.”

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