Prosecutors add charges for 25 in N.S. lobster pound riot, say 'resolutions' possible

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HALIFAX — Prosecutors have added more charges against 25 people accused of entering and ransacking a Nova Scotia lobster pound at the centre of a dispute about an Indigenous self-regulated fishery.

Crown lawyer Robert Kennedy, however, said in an interview Tuesday the prosecution is willing to discuss "resolutions" for "at least some" of the accused, which would avoid further court proceedings.

In January 2021, the RCMP announced that 23 people were facing a charge of break and enter, with eight also charged with mischief, for their roles in the Oct. 14, 2020, incident at the facility in Middle West Pubnico, N.S.

Kennedy said Tuesday a total of 25 people face charges and that in November, the special prosecutions office recommended adding the charges of forcible entry and unlawful assembly against all of the accused. He said that during a Dec. 17 hearing in Yarmouth provincial court, the proceedings involving all 25 were set over to Jan. 21, as talks between the Crown and defence lawyers continue.

The ransacking of the lobster pound made national headlines, and it was also among the cases cited in a complaint by the Sipekne'katik First Nation to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The First Nation alleged "acts of racist violence against Mi'kmaq."

The First Nations fishers have for the past several years attempted to conduct a self-regulated lobster fishery in St. Marys Bay, in southwestern Nova Scotia. The Pubnico pound had been storing lobster caught outside the federally regulated fishing season by members of that First Nation. Photos showed lobsters strewn about the facility following the confrontation on Oct. 14.

There were also allegations by police that some of the roughly 200 non-Indigenous fishers and their supporters present that night had damaged the building after illegally entering it.

In a separate incident, a fire that started on Oct. 16 destroyed the lobster pound. Charges of arson were laid against Brendon Douglas James Porter of East Pubnico, N.S., and Sean Roy Messenger of Shelburne County, N.S., in relation to that fire.

Kennedy said Tuesday that resolutions weren't being discussed at this point for the cases related to the arson.

The prosecutor, however, said that he and his colleague Brian Cox "are canvassing the possibility of resolution with defence counsel with at least some of these matters." He said that at this point, it's too early to discuss precisely what form the resolution might take.

Phil Star, a defence lawyer for four of the accused, said in an interview Wednesday he is taking part in talks with the prosecution regarding three of his clients. He said that while the talks are in the early stages, he believes that restorative justice may be appropriate for those facing the charges of break and enter, forcible entry and of unlawful assembly.

Restorative justice in Nova Scotia allows for the accused to avoid a criminal record, and it permits those affected by criminal actions to have an opportunity to work with those responsible. The program's website says the restorative justice process aims to create remedies that "address the issues, harms and needs of those involved."

Star said his clients "are anxious to have it dealt with either by way of a resolution that's palatable for all sides or letting the matter unravel and proceed through the court process, whatever road this may take."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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