Fisheries rights trial for 4 Mi'kmaw fishermen delayed

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Ashton Bernard poses in this undated handout photo. (The Canadian Press - image credit)
Ashton Bernard poses in this undated handout photo. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

The lawyer for four Mi'kmaw fishermen is trying to back out of a deal he signed earlier this year that was supposed to kick-start a trial on fisheries charges.

The trial for Ashton Joseph Bernard, 31, Arden Joseph Bernard, 22, Rayen Gage Frances, 22 and Zachery Cuevas Nicholas, 34 was supposed to begin Friday morning in Bridgewater provincial court.

By prior agreement, federal Crown prosecutor Denis Lavoie was supposed to enter an agreed statement of facts into the record during Friday's hearing, then close the Crown's case. The stage would then be set for arguments over whether the four men had a treaty right to fish when they were arrested and charged in September 2019.

Lavoie and defence lawyer Michael McDonald had signed off on the statement in January.

In the statement, the men admitted that they were aboard the vessel Charlene Helen off Pinkneys Point, N.S., between Sept. 6- 7, 2019. That is in the lucrative lobster fishing Area 34 that was closed at the time.

2,560 lobster, 32 traps

According to the statement, when the boat came into port, fisheries officers seized 2,560 lobster and 32 traps. The crustaceans were returned to the water.

The men were to base their defence on a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that fishermen from Atlantic First Nations have the right to fish for a moderate livelihood under treaties signed in the 1760s.

When court opened Friday, McDonald told Judge Paul Scovil that he'd had a sleepless night thinking about the statement, which had been drafted by the Crown with his approval.

More input from clients

McDonald said he now thinks he should have had more input on behalf of his clients. He did not specify what he might want to add to the statement.

Scovil pointed out that he, Lavoie and McDonald had held a pre-trial conference on Thursday and this issue was not raised. The judge then set the matter over for a week to give the lawyers time to try to sort out their differences.

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