Nova Scotia RCMP say man faces assault charges in violent clash at lobster pound

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NEW EDINBURGH, N.S. — A 74-year-old Nova Scotia man has been charged in relation to a violent clash last month at a lobster pound in the southwestern part of the province, police announced on Saturday.

The RCMP said Yvon Thibault, of Digby County, has been charged with two counts of assault stemming from an incident in New Edinburgh, N.S., on Oct. 14. 

A pound that stored Indigenous-caught lobster was ransacked as part of two clashes that police have said involved roughly 200 people at wharves in New Edinburgh and in Middle West Pubnico, N.S. 

Thibault is scheduled to appear in court in Digby, N.S., on Feb. 15. 

Another man was arrested last month for allegedly assaulting Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack, also on Oct. 14., but RCMP Sgt. Andrew Joyce said there were two other assault victims that day and Thibault is not accused of assaulting Sack.

"That (Sack) matter is a different matter altogether," Joyce said in a telephone interview. "We are still investigating the events of that day and collecting evidence."

The Mounties also asked anyone with information about the incident at the lobster pound to contact the Meteghan, N.S., detachment of the RCMP. 

Tensions were high at the time of the incidents between First Nations fishers and non-Indigenous commercial fishermen opposed to an Indigenous moderate livelihood lobster fishery outside the federally regulated commercial season in St. Marys Bay. 

Indigenous fishers have justified their fall harvests on a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision that affirmed the Mi'kmaq treaty right to fish for a "moderate livelihood'' when and where they want. 

The top court later clarified that decision, however, saying the federal government could regulate the Mi'kmaq treaty right for conservation and other limited purposes. 

In an interview Saturday, the president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance confirmed his industry association, which represents about 140 lobster processors and lobster pounds, is opposed to a moderate livelihood fishery that is outside the federally regulated commercial season.

Osborne Burke said while the alliance supports the treaty right of the Mi'kmaq to fish, it must be done under the rules set by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"Our membership does millions of dollars of business from one end of the province to the other with First Nations communities during the regular commercial fisheries and we expect that will continue," said Burke. "What we are saying is anything outside the regular seasons, we do not support."

Burke said the association believes it's a matter of protecting lobster stocks during time when the crustaceans are moulting, adding that even a small number of traps are capable of landing large catches.

"The average person doesn't realize he catching capacity with traps and more modern gear these days," he said.

Burke, who is also general manager of the Victoria Fisheries Co-Operative in Cape Breton, said provincial licensing rules also clearly state that lobster and other seafood can't be purchased unless they are caught with a federal licence.

Cheryl Maloney, a Mi'kmaq treaty advocate and member of Sipekne'katik First Nation, said the industry alliance doesn't have a right to weigh in on a decision that was established by the Supreme Court of Canada.

"It's up to them if they want to make a business decision not to deal with the Mi'kmaq," said Maloney. "But what's going to happen is we are going to find new markets and new partners."

She said the move will only hurt the local economy in the long run because the moderate livelihood fishery is going to "grow and evolve."

Meanwhile on Friday, federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan released a statement raising concerns about the health of the lobster stock in Cape Breton in connection with an Indigenous self-regulated fishery underway in St. Peters Bay.

Jordan said while the government recognizes the Mi'kmaq treaty right to fish, the scale of that lobster harvest is exceeding proposals made by Indigenous fishers.

But Potlotek First Nation Chief Wilbert Marshall said his community only has seven boats fishing in St. Peters Bay and he doesn't believe they are causing conservation issues.

- By Keith Doucette in Halifax 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov, 14, 2020. 

The Canadian Press