After Massive Fire Destroys Nova Scotia Lobster Facility, First Nation Chief Calls on Trudeau to 'Protect Everyone'

A man, who is a person of interest in the fire, is in critical condition in the latest violent incident against the Indigenous lobster industry.
October 17, 2020, 4:12pm
​The scene of the massive fire at West Pubnico, NS.
The scene of the massive fire at West Pubnico, NS. Photo by Darren Calabrese

Digby and West Pubnico, N.S. - Chief Mike Sack of Sipekne’katik First Nation implored Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to send more police and the military to southwest Nova Scotia to quell the mounting violence after a lobster pound owned by a Mi’kmaw ally was burned to the ground overnight Saturday. One non-Indigenous man, who police say is a person of interest in the suspicious fire, is in hospital with life-threatening injuries.

“Maybe it’s time for the military to come in and assist if there’s not enough members of the RCMP or DFO,” said Chief Sack. “We have acts of racist crime that are out there and they’re getting away with whatever they want to do, taking the law into their own hands, and jeopardizing the safety of everyone.”

He said if there had been proper police presence, the blaze could’ve been avoided, and yet again, called on Trudeau and the RCMP to dedicate more resources to protect people in the region.

The vast fishing area of southwest Nova Scotia, spread over hundreds of kilometers, is understaffed by RCMP. He suggested the 12 officers who have been on site to patrol 300 commercial fishermen on the wharf and 40 to 50 Mi’kmaq fishers, is unsafe for everyone.

Chief Sack said he believes the fire was a further act of retaliation against his people for exercising their treaty rights to earn a moderate livelihood, as affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada 21 years ago. The overnight blaze follows two violent raids earlier in the week by non-Indigenous commercial fishermen at lobster pounds over the self-regulated Indigenous fishery in the province, which launched in the area last month.

He said his stomach turned when he found out a non-native man was gravely injured. “The last thing we want is for anyone to be hurt,” he said.

Photos circulating on social media allegedly show a man attacking Chief Sack Oct. 14 at one of the previous raids in nearby New Edinburgh. Three days later, on Saturday, RCMP laid charges against Chris Gerald Melanson, 46, of Digby County.

Around midnight Friday, police and fire departments were called to the commercial lobster pound. Earlier in the week, the lobster pound had been the scene of a mob of 300 non-Indigenous fishers dumping lobster, smashing windows, and threatening to burn the building down.

Amid heavy rain, hundreds in pickup trucks and vehicles showed up to view the charred rubble of the lobster pound in West Pubnico Saturday morning.

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The scene Saturday morning. Photo by Darren Calabrese.

The RCMP and fire marshal are investigating the fire. Sgt. Andrew Joyce said no one was inside the lobster pound at the time and no employees were injured, however one man is in hospital with life threatening injuries that police believe are related to the fire.

Sgt. Joyce said he couldn’t answer questions about whether police were monitoring the lobster pound at the time the building was set ablaze. When asked why there isn’t a greater police presence, he said RCMP can’t be everywhere at once. The communities where the violent raids and vandalism have taken place are up to 75 km apart. “Is it responsible for RCMP to be at every location? I’ll ask that for your reader,” said Sgt. Joyce.

Both sides of the dispute are calling for the federal government to step in and regulate the Mi’kmaw fishery. On Saturday, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan tweeted that she has been in touch with Chief Sack and is continuing to work with his community to implement their treaty rights. Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett tweeted to express support for his community and their treaty rights. “We share the urgent priority for the safety of his community,” she wrote. “Canadians are appalled at this assault on Mi’kmaw people.”

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