Indigenous group plans one-hour blockade of Pat Bay Highway today to support lobster fishermen

Indigenous leaders and allies plan to block a section of the Patricia Bay Highway on Friday to show solidarity with Mi’kmaq lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia who are in a dispute over fishing rights and have been the target of violence and intimidation.

The group will march from the Tsawout First Nation band office and occupy the intersection of Highway 17 and Mount Newton Cross Road from noon to 1 p.m., according to a Facebook post by Tracy Underwood, a member of the Tsawout nation who is organizing the march. The march is supported by the WSÁNEĆ Leadership Council, which represents the Tsartlip, Tseycum, and Tsawout First Nations.

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Central Saanich deputy police chief Derren Lench said the department has let the demonstrators know that the police department supports the peaceful demonstration.

“We feel it’s important to allow them to demonstrate for that hour at that intersection,” Lench said.

Northbound traffic will be diverted from the highway at Island View Road and southbound traffic will be diverted at Amity Road. The Ministry of Transportation is providing flaggers to direct traffic.

The police department has been in contact with B.C. Ferries and B.C. Transit to alert them to possible traffic disruptions.

“There’s going to be some disruption to ferry traffic coming and going,” Lench said. Motorists are advised to avoid the area between noon and 1 p.m. if possible.

For weeks, commercial fishermen have been opposing, with increasing violence, the Sipekne’katik First Nation launch of a self-regulated lobster fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia outside of the federally regulated commercial fishing season. The Mi’kmaq say they are asserting their treaty-protected rights, which allow them to earn a “moderate livelihood” all year round.

Tensions erupted into violence last week when a lobster pound, holding the catch of Mi’kmaq fishers, was burned down in a suspicious fire, days after another lobster pound was ransacked.

Indigenous leaders in cities across Ontario, Manitoba and the Maritimes have been demonstrating this week in response to a national call to action.

Adam Olsen, Green candidate for Saanich North and the Islands and a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, said upholding the Mi’kmaq fishermen’s treaty rights should be seen as a human rights issue that affects all Canadians. He said if the federal government is willing to overlook the rights of the Mi’kmaq people, all rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are at risk of being trampled.

Olsen said he’s confident demonstrators will allow ambulances through to access Saanich Peninsula Hospital and that any traffic disruptions will be minor.

About 100 people blocked the same intersection for three hours on Feb. 26 to show their support for five Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline. In that case, the province obtained a court injunction to prevent protesters from blocking the highway, but police did not enforce it, since the protesters left by 5 p.m. as promised.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press

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