Lawyer for Mi’kmaw fishermen says charges against them should be dismissed

Ashton Bernard, left, and his lawyer, Michael McDonald outside of court in Yarmouth, N.S. Oct. 26, 2020/Photo by Stephen Brake

The lawyer representing four Mi’kmaw lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia says all fishery charges against them should be dismissed.

“We have four Mi’kmaw fishermen that were fishing under their right to (fish for) a moderate livelihood,” Michael McDonald said following court in Yarmouth, N.S. Monday morning.

“There’s no regulations in place against moderate livelihood fishing. There’s no limitations put on livelihood fishing. So, we’re just wasting everybody’s time,” he said.

Mi’kmaw lawyer Michael McDonald/Photo by Stephen Brake

McDonald represents brothers Ashton and Arden Bernard from Eskasoni First Nation as well as Zachary Nicholas and Rayen Francis from Pictou Landing First Nation.

All four fishermen are each charged with fishing in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 34 during a closed time, lobster fishing without authorization, possessing lobster in contravention of the Fisheries Act and violating the Aboriginal communal fishing licences regulations.

A fifth person, Michael Surette from Arcadia, N.S., was also charged with fishing under the authority of a communal licence without being a designated person under that license.

Ashton Bernard was the only one of the four Mi’kmaw fisherman charged who travelled to Yarmouth for his court appearance. McDonald appeared on behalf of the other three fishermen.

Judge James Burrill granted McDonald’s request to adjourn the case until Dec. 1 so he and crown attorney Alex Pink can discuss whether or not to dismiss the charges against his clients.

“I don’t think we should be here” – Ashton Bernard

Ashton Bernard/Photo by Stephen Brake

Following his court appearance, Bernard said he believes the charges against him and his fellow fishermen should be dismissed.

“It’s too bad we’re even in the courts right now. I don’t think we should be here,” Bernard said.

“I don’t think I’m the problem here and here I am right now in the courts,” he said.

According to Bernard, the men were fishing in waters near Pinkney’s Point, N.S. Sept. 6-7, 2019. They had just unloaded 32 crates of lobster from his boat when DFO and RCMP officers surrounded them on the wharf and seized their catch. All four fishermen were charged eight months later in May.

Bernard said he notified DFO beforehand that they intended to fish to earn a moderate livelihood in LFA 34. He said they also labelled their fishing gear with personal identification.

The wharf at Pinkney’s Point, N.S./Photo by Stephen Brake

McDonald said he is also representing four other Mi’kmaw fishermen from Sipekne’katik First Nation and Pictou Landing First Nation who were also charged with similar fishery offences. He repeated his previous statement that the charges against all of his clients amount to harassment.

“You have the Prime Minister on national (television) telling everyone that Mi’kmaw people have a right to a moderate livelihood but yet, they’re continually being harassed,” McDonald said.

“It’s frustrating because I have these clients that have to spend money. It’s costly,” McDonald explained.

“I believe DFO is purposefully doing this just to strain Mi’kmaw (fishers) and make them want to give up and quit because it’s costing them money,” he said.

“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans need to lay off and leave these Mi’kmaw people alone. Let them practice their right,” McDonald said.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.