Canada submitted its response last month to a United Nations committee after the Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia asked the international body to investigate violence against Mi’kmaq fishermen while fishing. to “moderate livelihood” lobster in the fall of 2020.
However, the federal Department of Heritage, which is the lead agency on the human rights reports file, said Canada’s submission would be kept confidential.
Last year, representatives of Sipekne’katik submitted information to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination following the October 2020 fire at a lobster tank in Middle West Pubnico, Nova Scotia, where Mi’kmaq fishermen stored their catch.
The United Nations committee then called on Canada to respond to allegations that it was failing to properly investigate alleged acts of racism against Mi’kmaq fishermen.
“We hope for accountability,” said Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and professor who is a member of Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. Palmater was one of the co-authors of the submission to the United Nations committee.
“We don’t think in any way that this is going to magically make Canada respect our rights, but it’s one more tool, it’s one more area of responsibility,” she said.
The fall 2020 Sipekne’katik lobster fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia was conducted outside of the federally mandated commercial season in the region.
The band argued that it could do so under a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision which upheld that the Mi’kmaq had a treaty right to derive a “moderate livelihood” from the Peach. The court, however, did not define the term and later said the federal government had the right to regulate fishing for conservation and other purposes.
Fishing for Sipekne’katik has triggered sometimes violent protests in the fall of 2020 from commercial fishermen unhappy that this took place while the commercial season was closed.
Palmater said using the UN process is a way to pressure Canada on the world stage. This comes just as a Senate committee is studying the issue of moderate livelihood fishing.
The United Nations committee set July 14, 2021 as the deadline for Canada’s response, but the Department of Heritage confirmed that Canada had submitted its response on March 14, 2022.
“The government takes the allegations of racist violence against the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia seriously and has prepared a response to the Committee’s request for information,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC.
The ministry did not share details about the content of the response.
In a briefing note obtained under access to information laws, the Department of Heritage noted that many agencies worked on the response, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the RCMP, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, the Federal Department of Justice, Global Affairs Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia.
The UN committee process is “long and slow,” according to John Packer, a law professor and director of the University of Ottawa’s Center for Human Rights Research and Education.
“They take their time,” Packer said of the UN committee. “They are not full-time bodies, they are part-time, they only meet occasionally during the year, so even their so-called ‘urgent’ procedures are very slow.
“We are talking about years.”
Since Sipekne’katik filed its initial application to the UN committee, four Mi’kmaw communities in Nova Scotia have announced government-sanctioned moderate livelihood fisheries, including Acadia First Nations, Annapolis Valley, Bear River and Glooscap.