RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki defended the actions of officers in Nova Scotia on Wednesday in the face of criticism from Indigenous leaders about the police response to violence aimed at a Mi’kmaq fishery.
In her first public comments about the confrontations over Indigenous fishing rights, the Commissioner said the force’s actions to date are indicative of its commitment to uphold the law and keep the peace.
“I want to reassure … the people of Nova Scotia, the Mi’kmaq and all Canadians that we are managing this issue,” she said at an Ottawa news conference.
Indigenous leaders, including Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack, said officers from the Nova Scotia RCMP did nothing to stop the attacks against the Mi’kmaq and fishing facilities that they use.
Mi’kmaq fishermen operating lobster fisheries in Nova Scotia have been the targets of threats and violence in recent weeks by non-Indigenous fishermen who dispute their constitutional right to fish for a moderate livelihood outside the federally regulated season.
Violence escalated last week and into the weekend, including a fire that destroyed a lobster pound just days after it was ransacked by an angry mob.
Criticisms aimed at the RCMP include that they failed to stop the group from attacking two rural storage facilities holding Mi’kmaq lobster catches, and throwing rocks, setting a van ablaze and restraining fishermen.
Commissioner Lucki did not address the criticism. She said the RCMP is deeply concerned by the acts of violence and property damage in the fisheries dispute, and said two people have been charged, including one with assault over an incident with Mr. Sack.
Other suspects have been identified and investigations are continuing, the Commissioner said.
Chief Sack and other Indigenous leaders, including Senator Murray Sinclair, were unmoved by the Commissioner’s words.
“It’s the same old song and dance, ‘We’re working on it, we’re investigating it,’” Mr. Sack said in Digby, N.S. “For us, it’s not good enough. We feel the hate crimes will continue, the threats are still out there.”
Even with an increased RCMP presence, his people still don’t feel safe, he said. The Mi’kmaq requested a court injunction to prevent non-Indigenous fishermen or their supporters from approaching the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., where the band’s fleet is based, and from going into waters where they are fishing.
“It’s to help defuse the situation,” Mr. Sack said.
The court injunction was granted on Wednesday and expires on Dec. 15. It gives the RCMP the right to remove and arrest anyone trying to stop band members from accessing wharfs in Saulnierville and Weymouth, and a lobster pound in New Edinburgh.
The Sipekne’katik chief also said his band is pulling three commercially licensed vessels from the local lobster fishery because some seafood buyers are refusing to buy Mi’kmaq-caught lobster. Those vessels, larger than the boats in the moderate-livelihood fishery, will be used to provide protection and equipment to fellow Mi’kmaq fishermen.
He said the commercial fishermen have “systematically boxed us out of the market” and as a result, the band has nearly 15,000 pounds of lobster stockpiled that it can’t move.
Mr. Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission examining the country’s residential school legacy, said in an interview on Wednesday that the Commissioner’s response about the officers in Nova Scotia “flies in the face of the evidence.”
He said officers were not present in sufficient numbers at the incidents to be effective, they did not prevent the confrontation between the commercial fishermen and the Mi’kmaq fishermen and community representatives, they did not intervene to prevent the assault of Mr. Sack, and even thought they were present during the assault, which was captured on video, did not make an arrest at the time.
In central Alberta, the RCMP has faced criticism for standing by when members of white supremacist groups – sometimes violently – disrupted events held by anti-racism organizers.
What was meant to be a peaceful community discussion in Red Deer in September was crashed by counterprotesters who assaulted people. Videos show individuals pushing and punching other people. One individual who was hit in the face suffered a broken tooth.
Organizer Kisha Daniels of the group Black and Indigenous Alliance said she told RCMP before the event that members had received death threats and that white supremacist groups had previously attacked people at rallies, and was assured officers would be present and step in if anything happened.
But she said RCMP did not intervene, and when she confronted an officer, she was told they were there to observe and keep the peace.
The Alberta RCMP issued a release in October saying officers had intervened, although they had not witnessed any violence.
A counterprotester was eventually charged with assault – which Ms. Daniels said she believes happened only because Alberta’s Justice Minister publicly denounced the altercation and contacted Alberta RCMP’s deputy commissioner about the need for an investigation.
Ms. Daniels said that while her group still has problems with municipal police services, they have been far more helpful and compassionate than the local RCMP.
“I wonder if it’s because of the original purpose that the RCMP were created for, and that was to corral Indigenous and Black people in this country.”
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, whose organization represents 49 communities in Northern Ontario, said the Commissioner’s comments show she “doesn’t get it.”
Earlier this year, the Grand Chief called for the Commissioner’s resignation after she questioned the application of the term “systemic racism” to the force in several interviews, including with The Globe and Mail. She later released a statement that acknowledged the existence of systemic racism in the force.
“She should have resigned back in June,” he said.
It is hard to believe the RCMP is doing everything it can to bring order to the situation in Nova Scotia, Mr. Fiddler added.
“When a violent white mob confronted [Mr. Sack], … they didn’t do anything at all. They just stood idly by and let it all happen.”
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