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The NS Lobster Dispute: White Supremacy, Mobs and Terrorism

Now a delicacy, lobster was routinely fed to slaves, servants, prisoners and their children during the colonial era. More recently, lobster gained popularity and demand here and abroad, and Nova Scotia’s world-famous lobsters have again gained global attention due to the war-like conflicts

by Mildred German

October 24th rally in Vancouver in support of Mi'kmaq fishers. Photos by Mildred German
October 24th rally in Vancouver in support of Mi'kmaq fishers. Photos by Mildred German
The NS Lobster Dispute: White Supremacy, Mobs and Terrorism
Speaker Sakej Ward, Mi'kmaq Nation.
Speaker Sakej Ward, Mi'kmaq Nation.
The NS Lobster Dispute: White Supremacy, Mobs and Terrorism

It has been 21 years since the 1999 Marshall ruling, a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada which recognized Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi’kmaw, and the Mi’kmaq peoples’ rights to catch and sell fish.

Mi'kmaq peoples have inherent rights to fish in their homeland, regardless of recognition from the colonial government.

Nonetheless, it was significant that the Canadian court ruled that Marshall, a Mi’kmaw, and the Mi’kmaq peoples have rights as agreed to in the Peace and Friendship Treaty, one of the Treaties signed by the British Crown between 1725 and 1779. These Treaties have not been extinguished and therefore, remain in effect.

That means, the modern-day descendants of the Mi’kmaq people in the Maritimes and in Quebec are not subject to Canadian government regulations that apply to settlers regarding hunting, fishing, or land use.

However, white non-Indigenous commercial fishermen in Canada’s Maritimes in Nova Scotia (NS) are challenging Mi'kmaq peoples' rights, citing “conservation” and fears of “overfishing”, and calling for the federal government intervention. Violence has escalated, the unrest ongoing, and acts of terrorism have been reported.

A video circulated on Twitter by Mi’kmaq fishers on their boats showed them being rammed and shot with flares, their gear and trap have been hauled away, their facilities have been set on fire, they have been blocked from crossing borders, and the white mob surrounded Jason Marr, a Mi’kmaw fisherman who was able to livestream his ordeal as he was forced to barricade himself inside a lobster pound as the mob vandalised his vehicle and called for him to relinquish his lobster harvests.

The suspicious fire on October 17 remains under investigation. It was so big that 80 firefighters were called in from 8 fire departments. An arrest had been made, but the RCMP has faced heavy criticism for its failure to address its inaction in the dispute, as officers stood idly by as the violence escalated, even protecting the settler aggressors.

A long history of racist white mobs in Canada

The terror brought by white non-Indigenous people in the NS lobster dispute exposes the ongoing and deepening issues of Canada’s white nationalism, class division, misogyny, and the forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples and “model minorities.”

White mobs, historically, have been used to subdue Indigenous peoples, Black people, and people of color in America and Canada, and deny them economic sustenance. Historically,  segregation, slavery, and white lynching of Black people were so prevalent in America as a form of racial terrorism to intimidate Black and the non-white. White mobs have practiced lynchings and extrajudicial killings in order to punish, execute, intimidate, and to enforce white supremacy.

In Canada, Louise Sam, a 14-year old Stó:lō youth was lynched by a white mob in 1884 after being accused of murder. Sam’s lynching is Canada’s sole recorded lynching. Sam was later proven innocent.

Among many other incidents in Canadian history of white violence, one in 1907 Vancouver stands out. That year, Vancouver’s Anti-Oriental Riots were fuelled by white mobs and white nationalism. It was this anti-Asian racism that resulted in the formation of the Asiatic Exclusion League in Canada, which lobbied for Canada to eliminate Asian immigration.

Powell Street, the Anti-Oriental Riot 1907.  Photo:

In the article The Vancouver Riot and its International Significance, published in 1973, author Howard H. Sugimoto highlights how Canada’s underlying early 20th century’s anti-immigration attitudes and agitation for direct action was disappointingly led by labour unions and white-owned businesses at the time. Although no one was killed (at least not according to official records), Chinatown, Japantown, and Asian-owned properties and businesses were greatly damaged.

Protecting their rights

Apparently the white non-Indigenous commercial fishermen in the NS lobster dispute are union members. In an interview with “As It Happens”, Joel Comeau, the union head of the Maritime Fishermen's Union Local 9 confirms he has resigned from his union job amidst the NS lobster dispute, citing that the lobster dispute is taking too much toll on his family, and that the dispute has demonised them and their community as “racists”.

Despite the resignation, NS commercial fishermen and fishermen continue to rally for a Federal government resolution, and for a pause on the Mi'kmaq fishery to let the “negotiations” finish.

The Mi’kmaq peoples appealed to Ottawa to protect their treaty rights and fishers, and to prevent non-Indigenous fishers from interfering with their harvest. 

Meanwhile, an injunction against non-Indigenous fishers have been posted in the three wharves in Western NS. The interim injunction in place until December 15.

As tensions between the Mi’kmaq fishermen and white non-Indigenous commercial fishers stay high, rallies and expressions of support are reaching out across Canada and globally.  Numerous calls to action have been happening across Canada, including in major cities from the East Coast to the West Coast.

Some Nova Scotia restaurants are taking part in a boycott by pulling commercial non-Indigenous-caught lobster off their menu in response to violence happening, and in support of the Mi’kmaq fishers and their rights to “moderate livelihood”. There are calls in Canada and globally to honour the Treaties, which were “designed to facilitate trade and prevent war between enemies”. 

Meanwhile, Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack said some local businesses are refusing to serve Mi'kmaq people over the dispute.

The NS lobster dispute is not new. It has been long standing. Canada, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), has long failed to address and uphold the 1999 Marshall ruling and the Mi'kmaq peoples’ treaty rights to catch and sell. This has enabled, allowed, and greatly contributed to the ongoing violence and terrorism happening on the NS coasts.  With this long failure, has Canada neglected to hold up its responsibilities to Mi'kmaq descendants to ensure their rights to catch and sell.

This has not only violated the Treaties, but also has allowed open-ended accumulation of wealth by the modern-day descendants of European settlers. White non-Indigenous commercial fishers, according to a a recent study by Shelley Denny, a Mi’kmaw Dalhousie doctoral candidate, have 35,000 traps compared to the 500 traps by Mi'kmaq vessels. 

The fact too is there are numerous ‘gross’ conservation violations by seafood giant Clearwater, a giant in the NS lobster industry. Clearwater has received a multitude of warnings about storing traps at the ocean bottom. Such giant monopolized commercial fishers, for many years, have committed “conservation” and “overfishing” violations that seem ignored by those who lobby against the Mi’kmaq peoples’ newly built fishery.

Even so, the calls over “conservation” and supposed “overfishing” expressed by the white non-Indigenous fishers do not eradicate the fact that in 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled to uphold the Mi’kmaq people’s treaty rights. It is a ruling Canada, the DFO, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, the white non-Indigenous modern-day descendants, their commercial fishers and their supporters have failed to truly recognize and respect.

Seeing the whole picture raises the question: who is the real threat to the fisheries and oceans?

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David Gray-Donald (David Gray-Donald)
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