'Starlight tour': Mi'kmaq fisher allegedly dumped without boots or phone feared death

One of two Mi’kmaq fishers who reported being dumped by federal fisheries officers far from home at 1 a.m. in Nova Scotia without footwear or phones says they walked for about six hours and feared they would die if they stopped.

Kevin Hartling says the way he and his friend Blaise Sylliboy were treated by Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers amounted to a "starlight tour."

That term refers to a practice where police in Canada have taken vulnerable Indigenous people to a secluded location and left them to find their way home, sometimes in freezing conditions.

Hartling and Sylliboy say they were apprehended March 26 while fishing for elvers in Shelburne, N.S., and that fisheries officers confiscated their phones and hip waders, which are long rubber boots for fishing.

Ottawa closed the 2024 elver fishery on March 11 because of violence and intimidation on the water last year in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but many Mi’kmaq people maintain they have a treaty right to fish for the tiny, translucent baby eels.

Hartling, 29, who is from Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton, says the hours−long walk home without shoes was extremely cold and painful. He says he worried that if they stopped they would end up dead.

Hartling says that after they were dropped off at a gas station, the fisheries officers didn’t let them have access to their cellphones to write down contact information, or cut the feet off the waders so that they would not be barefoot.

A spokesperson for the federal Fisheries Department said in an emailed statement Tuesday that fisheries officers arrested and released two people on March 26 for infractions related to elver fishing in Shelburne County.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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