Mr. Speaker, I must reiterate that the Bloc Québécois strongly condemns the crimes committed in Nova Scotia and the acts of hatred and racism against the Mi'kmaq that we have witnessed recently. In particular, my colleagues and I feel it is deplorable that DFO and successive governments, including the current one, have failed to uphold the Marshall decision by implementing a regulatory framework negotiated nation to nation that respects constitutional treaty rights and the need to conserve the fisheries.
We also condemn the inaction of successive governments, including this one, which has caused the situation to deteriorate and led to the present crisis. Many things could have been accomplished long before now. I sent the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard a letter about this, urging her to finally define a moderate livelihood fishery. That could provide a concrete solution to the current conflict raging both in Nova Scotia and in various indigenous communities elsewhere in Quebec and Canada.
Despite what we are hearing from the ministers concerned about police inaction regarding the acts perpetrated, it is not just about what the police did or did not adequately do in the current situation. There has been tension between indigenous and non-indigenous fishers for more than 20 years. Yes, I recognize that the escalating violence has led to an emergency debate, but the issue of the regulation of fishing rights arising from the Marshall decision did not seem to be one of the government's most urgent concerns in its last throne speech, nor even last year or in the previous four years. Resolving this issue was not even included in the mandate letter of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard in the last parliamentary session.
Must we wait for acts of violence such as those we have seen in Nova Scotia to take action? In my riding of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia there is also tension between indigenous and non-indigenous fishers, and I believe that is the case in many other places. Fortunately, there has been no violence in my riding, but we must take action now to prevent these types of incidents.
The Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard tweeted this past weekend that her government would continue to work with the Mi'kmaq to implement their treaty rights. However, this crisis has been going on for over a month, and as my colleague from Manicouagan rightly pointed out, it goes back much further than that. Where has the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard been all along? What has she done to ease tensions?
This problem did not begin with the violent outbursts we have seen in southwestern Nova Scotia since the lobster fishery opened on September 17. The government is clearly having a hard time finding solutions in collaboration with the first nations, given that, as I mentioned, it has been 21 years since the Marshall decision and the situation is still not resolved. In a press conference this morning, four Liberal ministers denounced the lack of a police response to the intimidation and violence being perpetrated by non-indigenous fishers against Mi'kmaq fishers in Nova Scotia.
Rather, I think we need to take a closer look at Ottawa's tendency to drag its feet, as we have heard over the last few minutes, when it comes to first nations claims in general. Yes, the Prime Minister himself condemned the violence in Nova Scotia and added that he and his government would continue to work towards reconciliation with first nations, but essentially, we know that no real progress is being made.
Now is the time for concrete action and clarity on the regulations. I think that is what we are really talking about here tonight. The federal government's unwillingness to resolve the matter and take responsibility for its decisions is what is preventing harmonious relations in the fishing areas shared by the indigenous and non-indigenous fishers.
This reminds me of a situation very similar to that of Nova Scotia. The lobster fishery in the community of Listigouche in the riding I represent, and where Fisheries and Oceans Canada has not been very clear on first nations' rights, remains a very contentious issue. Tensions are mounting among non-indigenous fishers because negotiations continue but nothing ever comes of them, either on the band council side or the fishers' association side. By deciding to manage its own fishing activities, the Mi'kmaq community is firmly reminding us of the impasse that indigenous and commercial fishers have been stuck in for 21 years.
I would also like to look back on recent and not-so-recent history. This evening, several parliamentarians mentioned the right of indigenous peoples to fish for a moderate livelihood. This right was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, but it is still surrounded by uncertainty, creating a lot of tension.
In 1999, a little more than 21 years ago, the Supreme Court made a decision in the Marshall case. It ruled that Donald Marshall, who was charged with illegally fishing eel outside the fishing season as set out by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, had the right to fish in accordance with the Peace and Friendship Treaties signed by indigenous peoples in the 18th century. The Supreme Court affirmed the right of indigenous peoples to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a moderate livelihood.
However, the concept of moderate livelihood was never defined.
A few months later, in November 1999, following protests by commercial fishers, the Supreme Court issued a clarification, known as Marshall II. It states that the federal and provincial governments have the power to regulate the fishery that indigenous people have the right to practise where justified on conservation or other grounds.
Ever since, the first nations and DFO have been unable to agree on the definition of moderate livelihood. That is why the Mi'kmaq decided they would fish and sell their catch according to the regulations enforced by compliance officers. That is what happens when the government fails to put measures in place. The communities themselves define the measures that apply to them.
Is it not the responsibility of the federal government, more specifically the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, to put regulations in place to ensure the prosperity and conservation of the resource, in consultation with indigenous and non-indigenous peoples? Again, my colleague from Manicouagan asked this question earlier. Why is no one able to answer? Whose responsibility is this?
Last year, Listuguj fishers also defied the federal government by going out to sea in September to fish for lobster that they planned to sell rather than just distribute in their communities. The Mi'kmaq claimed they were within their rights because of the Marshall decision, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada considered their activities to be unauthorized commercial fishing. The Listuguj band council confirmed that DFO had refused to grant it a commercial licence for the fall fishery but had not explained why. That is often what people hear when they try to contact the department. They get little in the way of explanation, and sometimes no response at all.
The first nation finally signed an agreement with the federal government last November, and that led to official negotiations on fishing rights, which are ongoing but are not actually making any headway.
If you try to please everyone, you will please no one. That is what is happening with a number of first nations issues. Just look at what is happening with moose hunting in the La Vérendrye wildlife reserve. The same is true in fishing zones in the Gaspé: Non-indigenous commercial fishers in the southern Gaspé are also angry because they feel unheard. For the past eight years, they have been calling on Fisheries and Oceans Canada to listen to them about the management of stocks, which necessarily involves the treaties negotiated with the first nations.
The Regroupement des pêcheurs professionnels du sud de la Gaspésie has been denied or simply ignored by the department. It has complained about being left out of negotiations, even though the changes made to the fishing plans affect all users of the same zone, including indigenous and non-indigenous fishers. The organization has also been critical of the agreements regarding independent fishing plans for the different communities, which it feels create inequalities. It says that two parallel fishing systems are being created.
According to the association, the government's actions go against its own lobster conservation laws, or efforts to reduce fishing to increase stocks, by increasing the number of traps allowed in certain areas and increasing the number of fishing licences, some of which are issued for the same areas fished by Gaspé fishers, in Chaleur Bay.
Indigenous and non-indigenous fishers likely do not agree, and it is the federal government's responsibility to draw the line. The government needs to clearly define livelihood fishing, invite all parties involved in managing the fishery to the table, come up with a licensing system and set out clear and transparent rules.
Once again, we find ourselves caught in a conflict with the first nations because the government did not fulfill its responsibilities. When it comes right down to it, everyone wants the same thing: clear directives.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for enforcing the Canadian Navigable Waters Act. It must therefore have the necessary political courage to take a stand and put an end to 21 years of uncertainty and tension between indigenous and non-indigenous fishers. That is what this government is missing on several issues: political will.
A collaborative approach is critical to formulate a comprehensive agreement like the 2002 peace of the braves agreement between Quebec and the James Bay Cree. That could be a solution.
My time is up so I will finish my remarks in my answers to my colleagues' questions, if they do not mind.