Nova Scotia

Mi’kmaw fishers say DFO officers left them to walk for hours at night after seizing boots, phones

Two Mi’kmaw elver fishermen say they were forced to walk in sock feet for hours along a rural Nova Scotia highway in the middle of the night last week after they were detained by federal fisheries officers who took their boots and phones before releasing them.

Blaise Sylliboy and Kevin Hartling, who assert they have a treaty right to fish for the lucrative baby eels despite this year’s season being cancelled, were joined Tuesday morning by dozens of protesters outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building in Dartmouth, N.S.

“When we were walking, there’s times I’m like, ‘Man, if we stop, we’re going to die,’ because our feet were just soaked,” said Hartling.

Protesters also gathered and drummed at a housing announcement in Dartmouth by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said “these reports are very troubling” and there needed to be a “full investigation.”

Last month, federal Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier cancelled the spring fishery for elvers, citing the risk of violence and widespread unauthorized harvesting that have plagued it in recent years. Since then, DFO has arrested at least 39 people and seized vehicles, dozens of nets, and weapons.

Two people attend a protest outside the Department of Fisheries and Oceans building in Dartmouth. (Robert Short/CBC)

One protester outside the DFO building spoke of “starlight tours,” a term that emerged in Saskatchewan to describe law enforcement picking up Indigenous people in the winter and abandoning them in remote areas.

Chief Bob Gloade of Millbrook First Nation called the incident involving Sylliboy and Hartling “appalling” and “inhumane,” and said DFO should fire the fisheries officers who were involved.

Sylliboy said he, Hartling and others were fishing for elvers at night along a river in Shelburne County in southwest Nova Scotia when a vehicle raced up. He said he didn’t know who it was, and began to run through the woods before realizing they were DFO officers.

Sylliboy, who is from Eskasoni First Nation in Cape Breton, said DFO later found him and he was detained. Hartling said he surrendered as soon as he learned they were DFO officers. Sylliboy said they were told their boots and phones had to be seized for investigative purposes.

Sylliboy said he was put in a vehicle, but said he was in such pain from the handcuffs he agreed to be dropped off at a gas station at about 1 a.m. He said he tried to call his mother but couldn’t get a hold of her. Without his phone, he said he couldn’t remember other numbers to call.

“I told [the officer], like, ‘Man, this is outrageous. You’re leaving me with no shoes,'” Sylliboy said. “He said, ‘You know the consequences. But I said, ‘I know the consequences, but this is, like, outrageous on human rights.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, sounds like your guys’ problem.'”

WATCH | Trudeau responds to questions about fisheries officers’ actions 

Trudeau says full investigation needed into alleged DFO actions against N.S. elver fishers

A loud group of demonstrators made their presence known Tuesday during a housing announcement in Nova Scotia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied to questions about alleged DFO interactions with elver fishers in Atlantic Canada.

Sylliboy said he and Hartling, who is from Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton, were told by the gas station clerk they couldn’t stay there, so they began to walk in sock feet toward the community of Liverpool where they hoped to find a hotel room. They said they wrapped their feet in duct tape and plastic bags from the gas station.

They didn’t want to knock on doors in the middle of the night, so kept walking. At one point, Sylliboy said Hartling spotted a donation bin and pulled out used clothes to put on his feet, which were becoming raw.

He said an EHS ambulance driver stopped at one point and allowed them to use his phone so Sylliboy could call his mother, but refused to pick them up. Sylliboy said they finally flagged down a truck whose driver agreed to take them to the town of Shelburne.

Protester Jake Maloney said the incident shows “how deep racism is. They couldn’t get help anywhere, from any public servant, from any business, from anybody.”

DFO saying little

DFO confirmed it detained and released two people related to the elver fishery on March 26, but said it would not provide more details due to the investigation. CBC News has also reached out to EHS for comment.

“It’s important that the laws against illegal fishing be enforced,” Trudeau said. “But there are processes and protocols in place, and the way enforcement officers need to behave, that we need to make sure was properly followed.”

Unauthorized fishing for elvers along Nova Scotia rivers has exploded in recent years as the price has skyrocketed, with the tiny eels selling for thousands of dollars a kilogram and being shipped live to Asia, where they are grown for food.

The decision to cancel the season has been heavily criticized by commercial fishermen, as well as by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs, which put forward its own proposal to DFO to manage the fishery.

Some Mi’kmaq have asserted they have a treaty right to fish for elvers, although the assembly of chiefs warned last month it did not have the resources to “support court cases” of those charged this year as DFO can justify the closure of a fishery by using “legitimate public safety and conservation concerns.”

See also  There's 'misunderstanding' around treaties, and a Mi'kmaw academic aims to change that

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button