Hon. Brian Francis: Thank you, Your Honour. I would like to offer my sincere congratulations on your appointment.
Honourable colleagues, I rise today to pay tribute to Mr. Joseph Kenneth Levi from Metepenagiag First Nation, who retired from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or DFO, last January after working for more than three decades as a fisheries officer in New Brunswick.
During his long career, Mr. Levi was repeatedly tasked with mediating between the department and local First Nations, including at times of significant tension, harassment and even violence directed at fellow Mi’kmaq who attempted to exercise their constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights. He highlighted two examples.
During the wild Atlantic salmon crisis in 1995, Mr. Levi worked near Natoaganeg First Nation, which is only a kilometre from his residence and therefore put him in a very difficult position. After weeks of extensive surveillance, there were multiple seizures and arrests until the river was finally closed.
In addition, Mr. Levi was at the front lines during the Burnt Church crisis from 1999 to 2002. He shared that DFO was unprepared and resistant to the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada in Marshall. As a result, Mi’kmaq who tried to catch and sell their lobster for sustenance encountered an aggressive enforcement response from the department, which concluded in violent clashes. There was also significant pushback from non-Indigenous stakeholders. Mr. Levi was caught in the middle of this crisis and feared for his own safety and that of his colleagues and the broader community. On one occasion, he was in a vessel at sea when rocks were thrown, and he had to aid a new recruit who was seriously hurt.
Despite tough times, Mr. Levi is proud of what he accomplished and overcame during his long career at DFO. He pushed for change from within, including by advocating for more Indigenous recruitment to help build deeper understanding and relationships locally. However, Mr. Levi laments that retention remains low because the department has not allocated the necessary time and resources to become more culturally capable and responsive. Nevertheless, he remains hopeful that it will one day work in true partnership with the Mi’kmaq so that current and future generations can enjoy and benefit from their right to fish and trade lobster, salmon and other species which were shared freely by our ancestors after contact.
To Mr. Levi and all other Indigenous public servants who are committed to helping improve the experiences and outcomes of other Indigenous people from within, I say we’lalin — thank you — for your contributions and sacrifices. Having walked alongside you earlier in my career, I know how challenging it can be to balance your personal and professional responsibilities, especially when you experience prejudice, discrimination and other barriers in the workplace and when you are directed to administer laws, policies and programs which may adversely impact your families, communities and nations.
We’lalin. Thank you.