Yesterday, the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Brenda Lucki, took umbrage with Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller’s Monday assertion that ‘We must also recognize that once again, as evidenced by the scenes of violence, Indigenous people have been let down by the police, those who are sworn to protect them,’ in Nova Scotia, where Mik’maq fishers have been under siege by racist white fishermen for the past 10 days.
So yesterday, there was Lucki responding to a reporter who asked her if she agreed with Miller’s assertion:
Absolutely not. I have full confidence in officers on the ground. I have full confidence in the command structure and the management structure. The members, including our divisional liaison teams, have been working tirelessly to maintain a peaceful environment.
Let’s be clear here, the RCMP and the Canadian government have stood by and allowed this to happen. By maintaining their place on the sidelines, they allowed marauding bands of racist fishermen to attack the Mi’kmaq. In fact, just last Sunday, the Minister of Public Safety, Bill Blair, was essentially defending the RCMP’s non-intervention, claiming it was too busy investigating.
He was speaking in response to the events of the night before. Last Saturday night, a lobster pound used by the Mi’kmaq was torched in an act of terrorism. The person allegedly responsible was in hospital with smoke inhalation injuries. A few days earlier, on Wednesday, 14 October, a gang of white fishermen torched a van at the site:
Angry mob trap Mi’kmaw fishermen at a lobster pound in southwestern Nova Scotia https://t.co/5vj5q8JasJ#kukukwesnews, #indigenousnews, #indigenous, #mikmaq, #treatyrights, #indigenousrights, #novascotia, #lobsterfishing pic.twitter.com/H3FWOsLy9c
— Ku'ku'kwes News (@Kukukwes) October 14, 2020
So clearly RCMP Commissioner Lucki is out to lunch. The burning of the van at the site of the Mik’maq fishery was only part of a larger campaign of terror that night against the Mik’maq of the Sipekne’katik First Nation. In fact, Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack was ‘I was afraid somebody would die,’ before adding that the RCMP weren’t ‘doing their job well,’ as the RCMP stood by and did nothing to intervene, as Vice News reported on the 15th.
This is racism. As my colleague Greg Horn noted two days ago, the Mi’kmaq are exercising their treaty rights in exercising their rights to a ‘moderate living.’ This right comes from a 1752 treaty, and one guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution, and affirmed the Supreme Court in the 1999 Marshall decision. The law is on their side.
But, time and again, indigenous rights in Canada, those enshrined in treaties, the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions, have been met with violent racism. I have lost count how many times I have seen this happen over the course of my life. In 1994, on the Fraser River in British Columbia, it was more of the same: white fisherman attacking indigenous fishers and their Constitutional rights. This is just one other example, but I could also point to Gustafsen Lake, Oka, or the Wet’suwet’en protests earlier this year. Or countless others.
In the 2015 election campaign, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to ‘reset’ relations between Canada and the indigenous nations. On 10 July of that year, he attended the Assembly of First Nations’ 36th annual meeting, promising to restore fairness to this relationship. Amazingly, that speech is still proudly up on the Liberal Party of Canada’s website. That December, after winning the election, Trudeau returned to the AFN and reiterated his promise. He promised a nation-to-nation relationship.
Since then? Crickets. During the Wet’suwet’en protests this year, Trudeau’s government, now in office since 2015 and re-elected (albeit in a minority) last year, the federal government in the face of the RCMP made no attempt to listen, only to enforce. The Minister of Fisheries, who is also one of the Prime Minister’s oldest and closest friends (and my Member of Parliament) has, in his defence, been calling the racist attacks on the Mik’maq ‘assault‘ for a week now, and that was before he charged the RCMP with failing to do its job. But that’s it. The government Miller serves in has done nothing.
So here we are in 2020, and I would venture that not only has Trudeau failed in his reset, he has tolerated the rise of quasi-legal behaviour by the RCMP (in particular vis-à-vis Wet’suweten territories in British Columbia), the RCMP’s non-intervention in the case of the Mik’maq fishery. And he has tolerated blundering mis-steps by the likes of his Public Safety minister. Meanwhile, the Neskantaga First Nation in northwestern has not had safe water to drink for a quarter of a century.
This week, matters have calmed down in Nova Scotia somewhat, in that there have been no further assaults on the Mik’maq. The Sipekne’katik First Nation, on Wednesday, obtained a court injunction against interference in their fishery. But the fact remains that the Sipekne’katik have had to go to the courts to protect their rights, because the RCMP failed to do their job.
Why? Because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has allowed it to be so. But stopping the blame there also lets Canadians off the hook. Point of fact, Canada is a racist nation. How could it be otherwise, it is a nation founded upon violent white supremacy, a nation that has committed at worst genocide, at best, ethnocide against the indigenous. Canadian racism is plain as day to see against any minorities. This is not going to end anytime soon, either, judging by the Member of Parliament for West Nova, the riding that includes the area affected by this racist violence. In the House of Commons Monday, Chris D’Entremont, a member of the NDP (the only federal party led by a person of colour) declared:
Please don’t paint my area as racist. There’s probably a few, as in many of our ridings. Systemic racism is true in Canada, but my area is not by default racist.
Ah, yes, the ‘a few bad apples’ argument. This is one white Canadians like to trot out, to distance us, the good, non-racist Canadians, from those, the bad, racist Canadians. D’Entremont’s argument is just not good enough. The fact these white fishermen have been able to act with impunity says all you need to know about West Nova. Where have been the non-racist white people to tell them this isn’t acceptable? How come the news is not full of the good people of West Nova declaring that this is just not on? Even D’Entremont seemed incapable of saying that Monday in the House of Commons.
But it’s not just West Nova. It’s not just one location in Canada. D’Entremont is correct that Canada has systemic racism, but in order for a society to be systematically racist, does it not first have to be default racist? How else do we allow white police officers to assault and kill black Canadians, indigenous Canadians? How else do we see a heavily armed white man attack the Prime Minister’s residence, but be talked down by the RCMP? How else do we see the media paint that very same heavily armed white man as just a ‘good ol’ boy‘ who did something stupid? As with attacks on the indigenous for defending their rights, examples of racist behaviour in Canada are endless.
In his credit, Prime Minister Trudeau has been very clear that Canada is a systematically racist nation, just as D’Entremont stated in the House this week. But this is just empty sloganeering. At what point do we accept that this is because Canada itself is fundamentally racist?
It is only by accepting that as truth that we can begin to build a Canada that treats ALL of us with dignity and respect.