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Indigenous fishermen adjust lines on their boat in Saulnierville, N.S. on Oct. 21, 2020.The Canadian Press

Canadians are split on whether they trust the RCMP to handle the situation on the East Coast over fishing rights, says a new poll from Nanos Research.

Late last month, the RCMP in Nova Scotia were criticized for their response to acts of violence against Mi’kmaq fishermen. Indigenous leaders, including Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack, said officers stood by while Mi’kmaq fishermen and the facilities they use were attacked.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki defended the actions of officers in Nova Scotia and said the force’s actions demonstrate its commitment to upholding the law and keeping the peace.

A poll conducted by Nanos Research between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1 found that 16 per cent of respondents trust the RCMP to handle the situation in Nova Scotia and 32 per cent somewhat trust the force while 20 per cent do not trust it and 26 per cent somewhat do not trust it. Five per cent are unsure.

Nik Nanos, the founder and chief data scientist of Nanos Research, said in an interview that the fact only half of Canadians trust or somewhat trust the RCMP to handle the conflict on the East Coast should be quite worrisome, noting both the importance of force and the fact it is considered a “Canadian iconic institution.”

“The positive news is that the confidence in the RCMP is a little higher in Atlantic Canada, which is ground zero for the conflict, compared to other parts of the country,” he said.

“But the mere fact that 46 per cent of Canadians would use words like ‘not trust’ or ‘somewhat not trust’ the RCMP speaks to the fact there is a significant proportion of Canadians that are just unhappy with what they have seen and unhappy with the RCMP response to the escalating conflict on the East Coast.”

The study, commissioned by The Globe and Mail and CTV, was conducted by the research firm through a hybrid phone and online survey of 1,039 Canadians 18 years of age or older. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The poll also found that Canadians are split on whether they trust the federal government to find a solution that will balance the right of Indigenous people to fish and the need to have a sustainable fishery.

At the end of October, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the appointment of Allister Surette as a federal special representative to act as a neutral third party to communicate with commercial and Indigenous fishermen.

Mr. Nanos said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have made reconciliation and Indigenous issues a top priority since coming to power in 2015. But he said the polling results show a disconnect between the government’s ambitions and intent and Canadians’ perception of the job Ottawa is doing.

The scorecard indicates that only about one out of four Canadians believes the government is doing a very good or good job advancing the issue of reconciliation, Mr. Nanos said.

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