Aug 8/98: End of native fisheries?


Vancouver Sun
August 8, 1998

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

Opponents of an exclusive native Indian commercial fishery hailed a court decision Friday as the end of Ottawa's Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy.

"We will lay charges against any official who signs a licence or authorizes in any shape or form an exclusive native Indian commercial fishery," B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition member Phil Eidsvik said after a provincial court judge stayed about 60 charges against about 24 non-native commercial fishermen. "If the department of fisheries and oceans opens up a fishery for select native bands we will go out and fish and we are immune from prosecution," Eidsvik said after provincial court Judge Howard Thomas issued his reasons for judgment.

The charges against Eidsvik and others were laid after they took their commercial fishing vessels out on the Fraser River in 1996 and 1997 in protest during native Indian-only openings. Eidsvik and the 23 other fishermen filed an abuse-of-process case against Ottawa for proceeding with charges against them after Thomas ruled last January that the Fisheries Act gave the department no authority to establish a native-only fishery.

The reasoning for the judgment reached back to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, which shut down Crown's right to declare exclusive fisheries at its pleasure. The reasons were given when Reform MP John Cummins was convicted for fishing during a closed period in protest of an exclusive native-only commercial fishery.

Officials in federal Fisheries Minister David Anderson's office said they would not comment on the case until they have had an opportunity to analyse the judge's reasoning.

But Katzie First Nations Chief Peter James said the ruling requires the support of higher courts before it becomes law. "It means nothing," James said. "The local court is entitled to its opinion. It's only an opinion; it doesn't make it law."

Reform fisheries critic John Reynolds, however, said it was the second such decision barring the native fishery. He said the decision should end the native-only fishery. "The judge has said the whole policy is illegal," Reynolds said. "It is time for Anderson to look a this thing and say we are all equal. To have a separate fishery is absolute insanity."

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