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Chronology of Irresponsibility

How not to respond to a SCC Decision on Aboriginal rights

Soon after the decision, the federal government considered asking the Supreme Court to suspend the Marshall decision.

On September 20, East Coast fishermen urged federal officials to move quickly to avoid potential conflicts between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal responded by encouraging fishery workers "to show good will and exercise patience and restraint" while officials in his department studied how the SCC decision fit into fishery management plans.

'Two weeks later, on October 3, hundreds of non-Aboriginal fishers ran out of patience, took the law into their own hands and destroyed more than 3000 lobster traps belonging to Aboriginal fishers near Burnt Church, N.B., while RCMP and Department of Fisheries officials looked on. Other non-Aboriginal fishers vandalized processing plants.

On October 4 Prime Minister Chretien said the government was still considering asking the SCC to suspend the decision. "The lawyers are looking at the possibility of asking the Supreme Court to stay the judgement for some time." But, as soon as news of this position got out, the Prime Minister's Office said the preferred option was a negotiated solution.

On October 6, in an attempt to end the violence that accompanied the creation of an Aboriginal fishery, Chiefs from 35 Maritime communities agreed to ask their fishers to stop fishing for thirty days, beginning on October 9. The Chiefs also agreed to work on long-term agreements with the federal government to implement their fishing rights. All but two communities – Burnt Church and Indian Brook – agreed to the voluntary thirty day moratorium.

On October 10, Canadian Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal imposed lobster catch size and fishing gear restrictions on Aboriginal fishers and limited the number of traps fishers from Burnt Church and Indian Brook could put in the water. These restrictions were meant to diffuse tensions, according to Mr. Dhaliwal.

Not surprisingly, however, Minister Dhaliwal's statements had the opposite effect. On October 14 Aboriginal Chiefs responded by reversing their earlier decision and called off their voluntary 30-day moratorium on lobster fishing. The Chiefs said that Aboriginal people, not the federal government, should regulate their fishery. In a public statement, the Atlantic Policy Conference of First Nations Chiefs said "We fully support the decisions our people make regarding their rights to fish, hunt and gather."