In this issue there is a story that may upset you. It is the story of how the RCMP have decided not to charge any of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers over the violent incidents at Burnt Church. I’m sure you all remember the video of the DFO boat ramming and running over a Native fisherman’s boat. Apparently there are other videos that show a DFO officer repeatedly hitting a Native man while he was in the water. Finally other DFO officers pulled the guy away. Obviously this implies that more than reasonable force was used in this case and was recognized as such by other DFO officers. The RCMP and prosecutors office decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to lay charges.
This all by itself would seem to indicate a miscarriage of justice but add to that the fact that overwhelming forces were brought to bear against the Burnt Church First Nation by the RCMP and the DFO. Then add in the fact that non-Native fishermen were given practically carte blache privileges when they went in and destroyed Burnt Church fishermen’s property and you begin to get a sense of injustice not only being condoned but being encouraged by the very forces that are supposed to protect all Canadians.
It would seem to any rational person that a selective form of justice or lack of justice is happening in the Burnt Church area. One wonders where the Gathering Strength Program of Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault is hiding or what exactly Gathering Strength means in Canadian political and judicial structures when applied to First Nations?
I remember the outrage directed at National Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come when he called Canada racist when he was at the UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. Where are those paragons of moral indignation? Are they only exercised or voiced when White privilege is threatened in some way?
Something is certainly wrong and the way the law is being applied certainly seems to be race-based when you compare the methods with which First Nations and the non-Native DFO officers are treated by the justice system.
One only has to look at the beginnings of this conflict to see that. The originator of the Marshall case was wrongly sent to prison for 11 years on a trumped-up murder conviction. It was found that he was innocent and that the police didn’t do their jobs in connection with that case. When Donald Marshall Jr. got out of jail he went back to the courts over his right to fish and sell the catch. When he finally got to the Supreme Court of Canada it was decided that Native people could fish and sell the catch in order to make a moderate living.
That is when things began to fall apart. The DFO got involved even though they were only supposed to intervene if there was a danger to a species. Things escalated from there when the Mi’kmaq began fishing for lobster. Even though they would only get a single digit percentage of the total catch, non-Native fishermen were up in arms.
And now in this latest escalation a message is sent out to the protectors of our society that it’s alright to use unreasonable force against the First Nations of this land. Canada may be “our home and native land” but it is becoming obvious that it’s sometimes neither “glorious,” nor “free.”