Motion Pertaining to Mi’kmaw Fishers and Communities – Sen. Cordy

By: The Hon. Jane Cordy

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Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I will speak today to give my support and add my support to Senator Francis’s motion.

I would like to thank Senator Francis and Senator Christmas for the work they have been doing to find a resolution to the fishery dispute in Nova Scotia. They are doing so in a calm and in a respectful way.

The unfortunate situation that we are seeing unfold in Nova Scotia has been troubling. Acts of violence and physical intimidation against Mi’kmaq exercising their treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood through fishing have been occurring in some areas of Nova Scotia.

The current pandemic and the economic hardships that have followed have, of course, added to the frustrations on all sides. We are living through a time of economic uncertainty and job losses. I know that we are also living through restrictions and reduced access to world markets for all of our fishers. But this, of course, is not an excuse for violence of any kind.

To date, these acts of violence and destruction of Mi’kmaq property have been isolated instances. However, the situation continues to be tense in some communities. The Mi’kmaq fishers, who have been able to fish, as is their right, continue to do so. But they are also acutely aware of tensions that remain in some communities.

As Senator Francis has stated in his speech, the rights of the Mi’kmaq people to fish to provide for a moderate livelihood was codified in treaties made with the Crown in 1760 and 1761. It was entrenched in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and it was confirmed again by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1999 Marshall ruling.

Honourable senators, how many times do we need to confirm and then reconfirm these rights for our Mi’kmaq friends?

Treaty rights in Canada have constantly been under attack, and Indigenous peoples have time and time again had to resort to using the courts to reaffirm their rights. Honourable senators, while treaty rights have been confirmed, unfortunately bands have had to use the courts to remind governments of these rights.

However, the courts can only reaffirm and protect those rights. They cannot enforce them. This is the job of governments and law enforcement. We are hearing from Mi’kmaq leaders that many in their communities believe that governments fail to live up to protecting their treaty rights. These communities also believe that local law enforcement is failing to protect them from violence and property damage. The Mi’kmaq have been very patient, but surely — surely — we cannot deny that it is long past time that these fishing rights are protected.

It would be easy if there was only one person or one government to blame for this lack of action, but, honourable senators, it has been 21 years since the Marshall decision upheld the Mi’kmaq treaty rights to a moderate livelihood fishery. Successive federal governments have avoided directly addressing these issues, and it is time for the federal government to step up and to take the lead.

The current government has made reconciliation a pillar of their mandate. It is time for them to put those promises into action and negotiate in good faith to find a path forward toward a solution. If not, I’m afraid that these isolated instances of violence and intimidation may continue, with the possibility of spreading to other jurisdictions across Atlantic Canada and perhaps across Canada as communities try to exercise their own treaty rights.

Colleagues, I cannot end my speech without recognizing and commending Senator Francis and Senator Christmas for their incredible work in helping to find a resolution to this troubling situation. They are the first Mi’kmaq senators in this chamber, and they are working with Jaime Battiste, the first Mi’kmaq member of Parliament. For the first time in history, the Mi’kmaq have a direct voice in both houses of Parliament.

I believe that this will lead to positive changes, not only for their communities but for all Canadians. I cannot think of anyone better to advocate for change in the Senate of Canada than Senator Francis and Senator Christmas, two strong and dedicated voices.

Honourable senators, the majority of Nova Scotians support the right of the Mi’kmaq to exercise their treaty rights, including the right to a moderate livelihood. Nova Scotians condemn these acts of aggression. It is my experience that violence does not solve problems; it simply creates additional problems.

I fully support the efforts of Senators Francis and Christmas, and I fully support the motion before us today. The Government of Canada must uphold the Mi’kmaq treaty right to a moderate livelihood fishery, as established by Peace and Friendship Treaties — as I said earlier — that were signed in 1760 and 1761, and we must stand united and condemn the violent and criminal acts interfering with the exercise of these treaty rights.

Honourable senators, we must also insist on proper enforcement of the criminal laws of Canada to protect those who are the target of this aggression.

Honourable senators, we should pass Senator Francis’s motion. Thank you very much.

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