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Trudeau vows investigation into allegations of mistreatment of Indigenous fishers

By Evan Taylor Apr 3, 2024 | 3:21 PM

A DFO enforcement officer in Yarmouth, NS. Photo Y95 Archive Photo.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged on Tuesday to launch an investigation into disturbing allegations regarding the treatment of two Indigenous fishers from Nova Scotia.

The men claimed they were left by federal fisheries officers without footwear or phones, hours away from their home.

During an announcement in Halifax, Trudeau addressed the issue amidst a backdrop of protesters drumming and chanting for the recognition of treaty rights. The Prime Minister expressed disbelief over the reported incident, emphasizing the severity of the situation. Trudeau revealed that Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier is spearheading the investigation into the matter to ascertain the facts.

The incident in question occurred against the backdrop of the closure of the 2024 elver fishery in March due to previous instances of violence and intimidation in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick waters. The Mi’kmaq community maintains their treaty right to fish for elvers, despite the closure imposed by Ottawa. Elvers, which are tiny, translucent eels, hold significant economic value, often fetching high prices in international markets.

In response to the allegations, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs issued a statement condemning the treatment of the fishermen as “absolutely unacceptable and inhumane.” Chief Wilbert Marshall, co-lead of fisheries for the assembly, denounced the actions of the officers and called for their immediate termination. The Chiefs further demanded an emergency meeting with Minister Lebouthillier to address the matter promptly.

The allegations sparked comparisons to the controversial practice of “starlight tours,” wherein vulnerable Indigenous individuals are taken to remote locations and left to find their way home, sometimes in harsh weather conditions.

One of the fishermen involved, Blaise Sylliboy, recounted the ordeal in a Facebook post, detailing a harrowing journey of walking for seven hours in the dark with makeshift footwear, covering a distance of approximately 70 kilometers from Shelburne to Liverpool.