Photo by Stephen Brake.

There is no excuse — period, full stop — for the violence and vandalism currently taking place in southwest Nova Scotia.

That said, the crisis there — and the tangled, troubled history behind it — is far more complex, nuanced and slippery than any simple hashtag-RACISM tweet can ever capture.

Yes, ingrained, historic racism plays an ugly part in this volatile mix. It was likely the spark on the gasoline of all the burning, looting, and destruction that followed last month’s launch of a new Indigenous “moderate livelihood” lobster fishery. But there is much more we need to understand before we can begin to render judgments and cast aspersions.

There’s no need for me to reconstruct that history or repeat those issues. My brilliant colleagues, Joan Baxter and Linda Pannozzo, have done it far better than I ever could in their exhaustively researched, comprehensive three-part investigative series for the Examiner, “Lobster Fishery at a Crossroads:”

I can do no better than to encourage you to read it.

If there is one theme in the series, however, which not only over-rides all the competing claims and narratives but also unites all the other key players, it is this: since the Supreme Court’s 1999 Marshall decision, successive federal governments have failed everyone  — Indigenous leaders, commercial fishermen, scientists, researchers, conservation groups, Canadians —at every turn in every way.

  • Governments have not negotiated in good faith with First Nations on the definition of a moderate-livelihood fishery.
  • They have not dealt openly and fairly with traditional non-Indigenous commercial fishers.
  • They have not only failed to protect a shared public resource but have also actively encouraged the ever-increasing corporatization of the fishery for the benefit of the few.
  • Having sown the seeds of discord, governments have then failed to act whenever that frustration and fear boiled over into violence.

So, there is also no excuse — period, full stop — for the lack of leadership shown by federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Here’s another, related common theme from the Examiner’s series: “As of publication, DFO has not provided replies…” to almost any reasonable question.

Consider this note from Part 1:

In researching this piece, the Halifax Examiner contacted the DFO with numerous questions, but at the time of publication, had yet to receive answers. When these are received, they will be reported in Parts 2 and 3 of this series.

They weren’t received.

Or this, from Part 2:

The Halifax Examiner requested an interview with a DFO biologist with knowledge of lobster biology and stocks, which was not granted. We also sent numerous questions to DFO on these and a range of related subjects and are still waiting for those answers. As soon as they are received, they will be reported.

And, again, from Part 3:

The DFO said it was not able to provide the Halifax Examiner with the most recent data [regarding declines in lobster landings in St. Mary’s Bay] “due to the percentage of outstanding logs.”

We weren’t the only media outlets unable to pry responses from Ottawa. On October 14, The Chronicle Herald’s Aaron Beswick also noted in his story on the fisheries dispute the day after a violent confrontation at a lobster pound holding Indigenous catch:

Bernadette Jordan declined an interview request on Wednesday and did not respond to a list of questions sent by The Chronicle Herald.

Bernadette Jordan
Bernadette Jordan

Instead of leading the government’s response to the crisis. Jordan has issued a series of contradictory, which-way-is-the-wind-blowing-now press releases, initially warning Indigenous fishers that “anyone fishing outside the activities authorized under a licence may be subject to enforcement action,” then reversing course two weeks later, claiming to be “working in partnership with First Nations to launch a fishery that members of their community can earn a moderate livelihood from.”

Worse, of course, is the reality — which also permeates every section of the Baxter-Pannozzo series — that Jordan and her department have consistently failed to communicate/negotiate with those most affected by her government’s decisions and lack of same.

Except perhaps — and this is also worth noting — when dealing with Clearwater, the fishery’s biggest corporate player, which has three lobbyists in Ottawa and has become the de facto pervasive powerbroker in the industry. Through it all, Clearwater has managed to serve its corporate self-interest.

That shouldn’t be ignored or glossed over either in our responses to what’s going on in southwest Nova Scotia.

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Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. The coverage of the lobster fisheries issues in the Halifax Examiner is excellent. I really appreciate your in-depth approach.
    Is anyone working on a story about the work of the Mi’kmaw conservation group? On their facebook page they recently posted (Oct 8) some photos of a project they are working on in the upper bay of Fundy.

    Here’s a link to their website:

    I know Linda Pannozzo and Joan Baxter included Darren Porter in the first of their series of three articles “Lobster fishery at a crossroads” – he is involved in the Mi’kmaw conservation group.
    (Those articles are excellent- as is their other work.)

    For the Upper bay of Fundy project (and others) Mi’kmaq and non-native fishers are working together. This is one of several projects they have worked on. They are hoping that other communities around Nova Scotia will work on similar projects to study the fisheries ecosystems- with commercial fishers providing local knowledge of their area, Mi’kmaq providing traditional knowledge, and fisheries researchers the western science perspective. A three eyed seeing version of Albert Marshall’s two eyed seeing.

    Also, I revisited your 2015 article about John Risley publicly decrying the NS film tax credit- meanwhile his company had benefited so much from taxpayer funding. That’s a good companion piece to the article by Robin Tress about Clearwater that the Council of Canadians recently published. It would be good to get your 2015 article out there again? Maybe republish it as a separate and updated piece?

  2. “But there is much more we need to understand before we can begin to render judgments and cast aspersions.”

    I strongly disagree. The judgements rendered and aspersions cast I’ve witnessed in the last few days have been rightly aimed at all who have participated in and contributed to this violence. If you feel it necessary to criticize the federal government’s specific role, have at it. They deserve it.

    But why the need to diminish peoples’ anger at non-Indigenous fishers, law enforcement, and the provincial government by pointing out the “complex, nuanced and slippery” situation. Some aspects of this story are actually quite simple. They include racism and policing failures.

    I was taught to discount everything that precedes a “but” or a “that said” in a sentence. Those words are doing a lot of work in the first three paragraphs of this piece, which could have made its point without said paragraphs.