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John Cummins speaks to Fisheries and Oceans officers on the Fraser River. (Christopher Grabowski/The Globe and Mail/Christopher Grabowski/The Globe and Mail)
John Cummins speaks to Fisheries and Oceans officers on the Fraser River. (Christopher Grabowski/The Globe and Mail/Christopher Grabowski/The Globe and Mail)

B.C. Tories' next helmsman nets fine for illegal fishing Add to ...

Already in hot water over his controversial remarks about sexual orientation, designated B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins was fined $200 in Surrey Provincial Court Monday for taking part in an illegal fishery.

Mr. Cummins said he was proud to stand with 87 other commercial salmon fishermen and accept the court's punishment for protesting what they call race-based fisheries, restricted to aboriginals.

"I don't think you will find a finer bunch of Canadians anywhere," Mr. Cummins said of the fishermen. "They are believers in equality."

The former, long-time federal MP is set to take over the reins of the fledgling provincial Conservatives at their convention May 28. He called on Premier Christy Clark to take a strong stand against fisheries that permit aboriginals to harvest salmon, while boats owned by non-natives remain tied up.

"She should make a clear statement, that all Canadians must be treated equally, although I don't see a lot of hope for that," Mr. Cummins acknowledged. "She is connected to the federal Liberals, and they started all this in the first place."

Mr. Cummins's fine comes on the heels of a hail of criticism directed his way, after he told a radio interviewer last week that sexual orientation is a matter of choice and does not need specific human-rights protection.

He subsequently apologized for suggesting that homosexuality involved "choice," but reiterated Monday his belief that it is wrong to single out sexual orientation as a category under the Charter.

"I don't see the need to break things down into specific groups. The point is that we are all entitled to equal treatment under the law," Mr. Cummins said. "It's wrong to bully or harass anyone."

The fishing protest in which Mr. Cummins dipped his nets took place nearly nine years ago. Legal proceedings were put off while fishermen fought the issue - based on an earlier case - all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, only to have the top court rule unanimously that native-only commercial fisheries do not violate the Constitution.

Mr. Cummins said this was the third time he had violated restricted, Fraser River openings proclaimed by federal fisheries officials.

"It's not disrespect for the law," he declared. "The government was acting inappropriately, and this was a protest to get the matter before the courts."

He added he is disappointed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not taken action to halt the practice, despite pledging in 2006 that his government opposed "racially divided" programs.

Meanwhile, Phil Eidsvik, spokesman for the B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition, which has spent millions of dollars fighting native-only fisheries, said the latest convictions and fines would be appealed.

Mr. Eidsvik said the appeal would be based on a case from the 1920s, when ethnic Japanese fishermen successfully challenged attempts to restrict their access to the province's lucrative salmon runs.

"We are people who believe in an equal Canada, and we don't give up easily," he said.

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