Cabinet ministers request emergency debate over Nova Scotia treaty dispute

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Lobster

OTTAWA — Four cabinet ministers and the NDP have requested an emergency debate in the House of Commons over a treaty dispute between commercial fishermen and Mi’kmaq fishers.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan says parliamentarians should have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the violence that’s erupted over the dispute about Mi’kmaq treaty rights to fish for a “moderate living.”

She and three other ministers — Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair — requested the debate in a letter to the House Speaker last night.

Hours earlier, the NDP made the same request.

It’s now up to Speaker Anthony Rota to decide whether the issue merits an emergency debate.

The increased attention from Ottawa comes after a lobster pound that stored the catch of Mi’kmaq fishers burned to the ground on Saturday morning.

A man described as a person of interest in the blaze is in hospital with life-threatening injuries.

The Mounties have made two arrests in relation to other incidents linked to the dispute, charging one man with assault against a local Indigenous chief and charging another with arson for allegedly burning a vehicle.

Non-Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia take issue with the Mi’kmaq people fishing outside the federally determined fishing season, but Ottawa notes that the treaty right for the Mik’maq to fish for a moderate living is constitutionally protected.

The treaty was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999, but some non-Indigenous critics point to a clarification issued by the court that says the treaty rights would be subject to federal regulations.

On Sunday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Ottawa must define what constitutes legal harvesting in a “moderate livelihood” fishery.

McNeil tweeted that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans needs to answer that question before the province can examine its own rules for fish buyers.

Over the weekend, Blair approved a request to send more RCMP to the region.