Four Mi’kmaw fishermen from Nova Scotia are in negotiations with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to settle a lawsuit they launched against the department in February.
The lawyer for Mark Howe, Jeremy Syliboy, Alex McDonald and his son, Kyle McDonald, filed a lawsuit on their behalf against DFO after fishery charges against them were withdrawn in Feb. 2018.
“We shot out some numbers on what we would like, what the fishermen would like, what they want and I’m just waiting to hear back from them,” Michael McDonald, who is also Alex’s brother and Kyle’s uncle, said.
The fishermen are seeking compensation for the money they spent travelling to Digby, N.S. for court appearances between 2015 and 2018. Alex McDonald, Howe and Syliboy are from the Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne’katik) near Shubenacadie, N.S. and Kyle McDonald is from the Millbrook First Nation near Truro, N.S.
They also want compensation for the 769 lobsters that were seized and released back into the water as well as damages for DFO denying them their treaty right to fish to earn a moderate livelihood.
“They want to be compensated for the earnings that they could have made because after they were charged, they couldn’t continue,” McDonald said. “They couldn’t go back fishing,” he added.
A spokesperson with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Ottawa, Ont. declined to comment on the lawsuit while negotiations are underway.
DFO dropped fishery charges after one day of testimony
The fishermen were initially charged in Sept. 2015 after DFO fishery officers stopped them as they were leaving the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S. and seized the 1009 lobster they caught in St. Mary’s Bay that day. The officers returned 240 lobsters they said the four fishermen were entitled to under a communal food fishery license. The remaining 769 lobsters were released back into the ocean.
They were then charged with catching and selling lobster without a commercial licenses and during a closed season. Alex McDonald and Mark Howe were additionally charged with violating an Aboriginal communal food fishery license issued to the Sipekne’katik First Nation (band).
The fishermen’s trial got underway in Digby Provincial Court in Feb. 2018. McDonald argued they were not fishing under an Aboriginal food fishery license but were exercising their treaty right to fish to earn a moderate livelihood.
After one day of testimony, the federal prosecutions office in Halifax notified the court that it was no longer pursing the charges against the Mi’kmaw fishermen.
In their lawsuit, the fishermen also accuse the DFO officers who pulled them over in 2015 of racial profiling.
“I’m also requesting some kind of cultural competency training is done with the Department of Fisheries officers that work in areas that are known to be fished by Mi’kmaw fishermen and fisherwomen. I think that’s appropriate,” McDonald said.
McDonald said his clients are encouraged by DFO’s willingness to settle the lawsuit out of court.
“I’m definitely encouraged because it shows … their willingness to accept some responsibility,” McDonald said.
“By negotiating with us, they’re not fully accepting full responsibility but they’re addressing it in such a way that they’re saying, ‘Yes, what we did was wrong. Here’s compensation for it,’” he added.