By Lloyd Dolha
Liberal MPs are up in arms about the agreement reached between the federal government and the radical Cheam Indian band. MPs charge it sets a dangerous precedent by agreeing to limit the Department of Fisheries and Oceans enforcement powers on the Fraser River First Nations’ reserve land.
The militant Cheam Indian band, widely known for its violent clashes between DFO enforcement officials and band members dressed in paramilitary garb, signed an agreement on June 17, which requires DFO enforcement officers to announce in advance when they will come onto reserve land to check for illegal fishing activities.
The Cheam reached the agreement despite the fact that they do not recognize the authority of DFO to regulate the Fraser River salmon fishery
Toronto MP Tom Wappel, chairman of the federal fisheries committee, said that the agreement is ludicrous even if it reduces tensions between DFO officials and Cheam band members.
“How are you going to enforce an act if you have to announce your presence before you enforce it?” asked Wappel.
Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido called on federal Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault to tear up the deal.
“In effect what they’ve done is abdicate their responsibilities in overseeing and regulating the fisheries … and it sets an awful precedent. What it says is, if you intimidate and act poorly, we’ll concede,” said Peschisolido.
Wappel said that the deal should be scrapped if there is any evidence that the deal was motivated by fear.
“If they (Cheam band members) are attempting to intimidate peace officers of the government of Canada, we cannot succumb to intimidation.”
Safety for both sides
Senior DFO official Colin Masson, who negotiated the agreement, said the deal was reached to reduce confrontations and to ensure the safety of DFO personnel. He said the agreement was reached because the Cheam “threatened a whole series of direct action” and “the situation was escalating very rapidly to a high-level conflict situation.”
Sidney Douglas, the head councilor of the Cheam band, who signed the agreement, said that the agreement is reasonable and was reached to ensure the safety of band members threatened by “aggressive” fisheries officers.
Under the terms of the agreement, any points of dispute will be referred to a “Salmon Table” controlled by a DFO designate and Cheam councilor Sidney Douglas.
The major points of the agreement state:
· If for any reason it is necessary for DFO officers to cross Cheam reserve land, they will seek advice and accommodating support from Head Councilor Sidney Douglas (or his designate) of their intentions.
· At Cheam fishing sites in the canyon, the Cheam Indian band will notify the DFO designate of the dates and times and locations that will be fished.
· In the event that fish, nets or other fishing gear is seized, DFO will notify Head Councilor Sidney Douglas and/or the band office in a timely manner.
Fishnets and fishing gear seized under the Fisheries Act is to be held by DFO until the disposition of the seized fishing nets and fishing gear is discussed at the Salmon Table.
· Any water-based enforcement operations will be carried out by one boat with no more than three or four DFO fisheries officers on board … all land based operations will be carried out with no more than two fisheries officers per vehicle, to a maximum of two vehicles.
· If Douglas and the DFO designate at the Salmon Table and cannot reach an agreement, an impartial facilitator will be appointed.
Canadian Alliance MP John Cummins said that the agreement makes a mockery of fisheries conservation and sends a message to other bands across Canada that they can win major concessions by wearing military garb and intimidating DFO enforcement officers.
“If they’re prepared to sign off an agreement to restrict their authority in this way, enforcement of fisheries regulations is going to be impossible.”