Woman woken up by lobster plant fire 'knew what it was' before seeing flames
HALIFAX -- Flames from a fire at a lobster pound used by Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia were so intense, they woke up a nearby resident who filmed the devastation from the steps of her home.
Pierrette D’Entremont got out of bed early Saturday morning and immediately reached for her cellphone. Before she opened her front door, she had strong suspicions of what was happening.
“I could hear it before I saw it and I already knew what it was, pretty much, when I heard it. So I looked out the window and it was orange,” D’Entremont told CTV News.
Firefighters from several departments arrived to find the building engulfed in flames. An adult male was critically injured and rushed to hospital. Police now consider him to be a person of interest in what they’ve deemed a “suspicious” fire.
For D’Entremont, the fire was the worst of her growing worries.
“I knew there was a possibility something like this could happen, but I just, in my heart, or naivete, thought, ‘Oh, no, it’s not really going to happen,’” D’Entremont said.
The powerful blaze comes after violent raids that happened at the same facility earlier in the week by non-Indigenous fishers who are outraged over a self-regulated Indigenous fishery, which began operating in the area last month.
Non-Indigenous fishers raided the facility, damaged property, killed Mi’kmaw lobsters and set a van on fire.
Chief Mike Sack of Sipekne’katik First Nation lamented the escalation of violence, but vowed it won’t stop his members from fishing.
“My stomach turned, the last thing we want is for anyone to be hurt. We pray for strength and courage and for everyone to be safe,” Sack told CTV News. “Everyone has a family to go home to, we’re not here to fight.”
Sipekne’katik First Nation have a treaty-protected right to catch and sell lobster where and when they want in order to earn a moderate livelihood, as confirmed in a 1999 Supreme Court decision.
Tensions in the area have been rising over the past few weeks by commercial fishers who say it is illegal for First Nations people to fish out of season.
Some critics of the decision point to a clarification issued four months after the ruling, which states that Mi’kmaq treaty rights would be subject to federal regulations to ensure fish conservation.
Both sides want Ottawa to step in to help resolve the issue.
On Saturday morning, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde called on the federal government to protect his people either with police or the military.
“My office has reached out to the RCMP and the federal government to express First Nations’ deep concern. I demand a full and thorough investigation by the proper authorities,” Bellegarde said in a tweet.
Hours later, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, Bill Blair issued a statement saying, “I have now approved a request from Nova Scotia’s attorney general to enhance RCMP resources as needed in that jurisdiction in order to keep the peace.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was appalled by the acts of violence and vowed that the perpetrators would be held accountable.
“We have been working with the Mi’kmaq to implement their Treaty right – and we will continue to do so. This is the way forward,” Trudeau said.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole criticized Trudeau’s response as hiding behind empty words.
"His government’s dismal handling of this situation and his lack of leadership are undoing decades of relationship building since the Marshall decisions and putting lives and livelihoods at risk,” O'Toole said in a statement.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also spoke out on the situation by calling the violence against Indigenous fishers a form of domestic terrorism.
“The Mi’kmaq people desperately need help now,” he said on Twitter. “This must be stopped.”
Both the Premier of Nova Scotia and a coalition of fishing groups called for a mediator. On Saturday afternoon Chief Mike Sack said he had a great conversation with Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan. The two plan to meet later next week.