We are experiencing another hey-rube over treaty rights and the rule of law in Canada. This time the issue is the treaty right of indigenous people to fish. The protesters this time are white. Funny how the rule of law means something different when the protesters are white. Whenever first nations such as the Wet’suwet’en blockade access to their land, or their supporters do that same across Canada, many Canadians complain bitterly that they don’t respect the rule of law.
This is what Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said in February of this year about the “illegal blockades” across the country that supported the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, “We respect the rights of protesters…. But laws need to be applied.” Alberta’s premier Jason Kenney was even harsher.
What about non-natives? I have not heard either Premier complaining about the non-native fishers vandalizing the Mi’kmaw fishers’ traps in the Maritimes.
The Mi’kmaq on the east coast of Canada are again embroiled over a dispute fishing rights and treaty rights with white fishermen. This brings memories of what happened 21 years ago in Burnt Cove.
I know when I first heard about Mi’kmaw fishers fishing out of season 2 decades ago I was appalled. How could they do that? Aren’t first nation fishers concerned about maintaining the fish and lobster stock on which they rely? Later I realized things are not that simple. They seldom are.
In 1999, the Supreme Court in the Marshall case upheld the Mi’kmaw right to hunt, gather and fish in pursuit of a “moderate livelihood” as a result of those treaties. The court did not define what they meant, leaving it to the parties to settle by negotiation. They have never managed to do that. The Harper Conservatives was not interested in negotiations. The Trudeau liberal government has agreed to negotiate but as always it is moving slowly.
Recently in 2020, a number of non-native protesters removed about 350 lobster traps off the coast of southern Nova Scotia. They took matters into their own hands again by attacking the native fishers. The non-natives claimed the actions of the natives were endangering lobster stocks. As a result, they took the law into their own hands and cut lines to native lobster traps and vandalized their traps. That is certainly not lawful.
Niigaan Sinclair described the dispute this way in a Winnipeg Free Press article:
“The fishers are angry that the Mi’kmaw have a right to fish “out of season” due to the 1760-61 treaty they share with the Crown — a right recognized 21 years ago by the Supreme Court of Canada.
At issue are approximately 350 lobster traps — which Mi’kmaw from nearby Sipekne’katik First Nation say gives them a barely liveable income. More traps would be set but Canada has used “conservation” as an argument to limit Mi’kmaw rights and impose a quota.
It’s a sham argument. Commercial Nova Scotia fishermen are allowed more than 325,000 traps during fishing season — and most companies break the law and overfish.”
Canadians claim the rule of law is sacred. It should be. As Sinclair said, the rule of law
“The “rule of law” is universally loved by Canadians, politicians in particular. It’s evoked every time there is an Indigenous “protest,” march or action that expresses Indigenous and treaty rights and disrupts the comfort of Canadians.”
It seems the only ones who respect the law are the indigenous fishers. The Supreme Court of Canada, the highest authority in Canada when it comes to the law, declared the Mi’kmaw have the right to obtain a moderate living from fishing. The non-natives and their supporters across the country refuse to follow that law. The non-natives are the ones who are lawless, not the poor Mi’kmaw fishers.
Premiers Pallister and Kenney, if they want to be credible, should speak up for them too.