Hundreds gather in downtown Toronto to rally for Mi'kmaq Fishers

An estimated 300 people flocked to Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto late Tuesday afternoon to express their support for the belagured Mi'kmaq fishers of Nova Scotia.

The Mi'kmaq, a First Nations people indigenous to parts of North America including Canada's Atlantic provinces, have risen to the forefront of national news coverage in recent weeks due to ongoing and increasingly violent conflict between Mi'kmaq and non-Indigenous commercial lobster fishers.

What's happened in the St. Mary's Bay area since mid-September has been seriously messed up: Assaults, thefts, devastating fires, property damage, racist mobs hurling rocks by the hundreds — all allegedly perpetrated by commercial lobster fishers and their supporters.

According to APTN, violence and harassment against members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation began on September 17 after the group launched its own, self-regulated, small-scale lobster fishery.

Commercial fishers in Nova Scotia were outraged by the timing, as it is outside the federally regulated commercial fishing season.

Mi'Kmaq fishers say their treaty rights allow them to fish when and where they choose to, as confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada more than 20 years ago.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that Mi'kmaq had the right to "fish for a moderate livelihood," but the federal government has yet to put down on paper exactly what this means.

Without an official law in place asserting their rights, the Mi'kmaq have been left vulnerable to retaliation from commercial lobster fishers who argue that the Sipekne'katik fishery threatens their livelihood and that it will deplete lobster stocks.

People around the world have been looking on in horror as Mi'kmaq are viciously attacked. Racist slurs are being scrawled across vans. Vehicles, goods and even an entire lobster pound used by Mi'kmaq fishers have been burned to the ground since the conflict reached this level. 

Many have criticized the RCMP for failing to protect the Mi'kmaq and are calling upon government officials to step in and do more.

Federal MPs held an emergency debate in response to the situation on Monday night, where NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that "the scale of the Mi'kmaw operation is in no way a risk to the conservation" and that any suggestion otherwise "is clearly an ongoing example of systemic racism."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau similarly decried the violence, and said that Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has been given resources to move additional RCMP officers into the area while talks continue between the government and all involved parties.

"There is no place for racism in our country. The appalling violence in Nova Scotia must stop now," said Trudeau to the House of Commons Monday night. "Its unacceptable, it is shameful and it is criminal... Above all there is a right to live and fish in peace without being subject to threats and racism."

Many people in Toronto (and elsewhere across the world) agree, as demonstrated by yesterday's rally and Round Dance in Yonge-Dundas Square.

The rally was peaceful and well-attended, though some weren't entirely thrilled by the presence of police...

... or the cop cars that allegedly flew by at one point with their sirens blaring during the demonstration.

Some people even created and brought signs just for the officers' federal counterparts.

And yes, it looks like pretty much everyone present was wearing a mask, save for performers when they were singing.

And they're not alone.

Hundreds of people gathered for a similar rally in Halifax over the weekend and another is planned for Winnipeg today.

Suffice to say there will be plenty more after that until things are made right.

Lead photo by

Martin Reis

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