United Nations formally calls on Canada to respect and protect rights of Miꞌkmaw fishers and prevent further violence

(SIPEKNE’KATIK, FN) — The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has called on Canada to investigate acts of violence against Mi’kmaw fishers and protect them from further violence, while also taking steps to respect and protect the Mi’kmaw right to fish.

A team of Mi’kmaw advocates, together with Justice for Girls – a human rights organization – worked with Sipekne’katik fishers to make a formal submission under UN CERD’s Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure, when it was clear that federal and provincial governments and local law enforcement would not respect Mi’kmaw fishing rights or protect Mi’kmaw fishers from racist acts of violence.

Mi’kmaw lawyers Rosalie Francis (Sipekne’katik), Pamela Palmater (Ugpi’ganjig) and Alisa Lombard, together with Justice for Girls human rights experts Zoe Craig-Sparrow (Musqueam), Sue Brown and Annabel Webb from Justice for Girls authored the submission on behalf of the Sipekne’katik Mi’kmaw fishers: Randy Sack, Jason Marr, Robert Syliboy, Terrance Augustine, Ron Augustine and Cheryl Maloney, as well as the Mi’kmaq at Sipekne’katik, supported by Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack and Council. The submission laid out the evidence of Canada’s serious human rights violations of Mi’kmaw peoples who hold inherent, Aboriginal, and treaty rights and self-governing powers in relation to the fishery in Mi’kma’ki.

After considering the evidence presented by the team which detailed the escalating racist hate speech, violence, firearms, intimidation, the burning and destruction of Mi’kmaw property, including lobster traps, lobster processing facilities and work vehicles; CERD called on Canada to:

  1. investigate the alleged racist acts of violence against Mi’kmaw peoples;
  2. Investigate the alleged lack of response by Canada to protect Mi’kmaw from violence;
  3. Prevent further acts of violence; and
  4. Respect, protect and guarantee the fishing rights of Mi’kmaw peoples including repealing any laws that infringe those rights.

Jason Marr, one of the Mi’kmaw fishers explained: “As I watched my fish plant being destroyed by angry mobs, and police standing by, I felt that there was no respect or protection for the Indigenous Peoples of this country. I feel grateful that the International community is aware and watching Canada, as we continue our efforts to regain our ability to feed our families and communities by making a living off our lands and waters”.

Cheryl Maloney, another Mi’kmaw fisher said: “I was on the water with my community on launch day and experienced being surrounded by hundreds of hostile commercial fishers, I prayed and honestly believed that Canada would step up and help. That was not the case and is the reason we reached out to the United Nations. We are really thankful that the UN has called on Canada to protect our people.”

Pamela Palmater, Mi’kmaw lawyer and co-author of the submission stated: “We all appreciate this important intervention from UN CERD calling on Canada to respect Mi’kmaw rights and protect our peoples from violence. It is shameful that we had to seek international intervention, but Canada’s racist laws, policies and practices continue to breach our basic human rights and our inherent Mi’kmaw rights to our lands, waters and fishery. We have a right to govern ourselves which is continually denied by all levels of government. This has resulted in generations of violence, criminalization and extreme poverty of Mi’kmaw peoples. This has to end and we hope CERD’s intervention will be a wake up call for Canada.”

Chief Mike Sack on behalf of Sipekne’katik said: “We are proud of the resiliency and ingenuity of our community members, and in particular the team responsible for the submission to the United Nations.” Chief Sack added, “while under siege and with very few resources they were able to move through the necessary international channels to advance this process in defence of our peoples.”

UN CERD letter

View a complete copy of the UN CERD letter of notice.