By The Canadian Press on October 17, 2020.
A large fire has destroyed a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., amid rising tensions over a treaty right to a self-regulated Indigenous fishery in the province.
A Nova Scotia First Nations chief, Mike Sack, issued a statement saying the overnight blaze “further illustrates the need for greater police presence in the region.”
He says the facility is owned “by a friend and ally,” adding that one of their community members was barricaded and his catch destroyed there last week.
Jonathan LeBlanc, fire chief for Eel Brook District Fire Department, says his team got a call around midnight about a blaze at a large commercial structure in West Pubnico.
He says the building is “a lost cause” and everything inside was destroyed, but they were able to prevent damage to adjacent buildings.
LeBlanc says no one was inside the building at the time of the fire and no injuries are reported.
LeBlanc adds it’s too early to say the cause of the blaze, but the fire marshal’s office is investigating.
“I am once again calling on Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau and the RCMP to dedicate the necessary resources to this region to protect everyone,” Sack, chief of Sipekne’katik First Nation, said in a statement Saturday morning.
“I am extremely concerned that someone is going to get hurt or worse.”
The incident comes after recent violent clashes and damage to lobster pounds over the Indigenous fishery in the province.
The non-Indigenous protesters oppose the band’s decision to start a commercial lobster fishing business that has operated outside the federally regulated lobster season since mid-September.
But Sack argues Indigenous people in Atlantic Canada and Quebec have a treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood where and when they want, based on a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that cites treaties signed by the Crown in the 1700s.
Many non-Indigenous critics, however, cite a clarification issued four months after the 1999 ruling, stating the Mi’kmaq treaty rights would be subject to federal regulations to ensure fish conservation.
On Twitter Saturday, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he’s reached out to the RCMP and the federal government to express First Nations’ “deep concern.”
“I demand a full and thorough investigation by the proper authorities,” Bellegarde said. “I will be monitoring the situation and will update later today.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2020.