MNO Offers Support to Métis Commercial Fishing Trial

Georgian Bay Métis Family Challenges MNR’s Arbitrary Prosecution

Orillia, ON (August 11, 2011) --- Gary Lipinski, Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) President and the MNO Chief Captain of the Hunt, offered the Métis Nation’s support to a Métis commercial fishing family who are defending themselves against an arbitrary prosecution by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).  The trial started today in an Orillia courtroom.

The case revolves around charges laid against Métis commercial fisherman Bernie Lepage for going over quota on incidental lake trout in 2007.  This incidental catch is impossible to avoid and the overage represented less than 1% of his total quota.  In other parts of the province, commercial fishermen are not charged for these incidental catches, and have the ability to pay overage amounts to the MNR, without being prosecuted.  As well, other Aboriginal commercial fisheries that have had incidental catches have not been charged by the MNR.

The issue for the Lepage family is that the MNR’s approach essentially criminalizes them for doing something that is impossible to avoid in the operation of their authorized commercial fishery.  A regulatory conviction could be used against the Lepage family in the future with respect to their commercial fishing license or quota allocation.  Moreover, the MNR’s policies are inconsistent throughout the province and are being arbitrarily applied to the Lepage family, even though they are an Aboriginal commercial fishery that should be treated in a similar matter to First Nation commercial fishing operations.

The Lepage family, like many Métis families along the shores of Lake Huron, Georgian Bay and throughout the Great Lakes, have supported themselves and their communities for generations by fishing commercially and for food.  Commercial fishing was and remains fundamental to the culture and traditions of Ontario Métis.   The industry also provides employment and a food source for all of Ontario.  This case is important because Métis commercial fishing operations continue to be unfairly harassed by the MNR on a wide variety of issues; and are not dealt with as Aboriginal commercial fisheries, which essentially ignores the landmark Powley decision from the Supreme Court of Canada.

Notably, the MNR’s “ad hoc” approach to dealing with Métis commercial fishing operations in relation to exemption from the payment of royalties was criticized by the Ontario Ombudsman in 2007.  To date, MNR has not addressed this issue, and Métis commercial fisherman continue to be harassed and denied exemptions available to other Aboriginal peoples.

MNO President Gary Lipinski stated, “We stand by the Lepage family in their struggle for justice and fairness against the MNR.  It is truly unfortunate that instead of applying policy approaches used with other Aboriginal peoples, the MNR continues to harass and disregard our Métis commercial fisheries.  The MNO will continue to push forward on this issue with the MNR, since our commercial fisheries are fundamental to the history and identity of the Métis in Ontario.”

Additional information about the trial will be posted to the MNO’s website at www.metisnation.org as it becomes available.

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