A group of divers claim First Nations protestors threatened "harm" to their oxygen supplies if they harvested geoducks in Kulleet Bay last summer, court documents state.
The Underwater Harvesters Association Research Society, along with several commercial geoduck fishermen, are suing the Stz'uminus Indian Band, its chief John Elliot and three unidentified people for interfering with harvesting operations.
The First Nation community declared victory on Aug. 9 after about a dozen of their boats surrounded four commercial geoduck vessels, forcing the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to call off the fishery, citing safety reasons. Stz'uminus First Nation members told the Daily News at the time that they were "outraged" the DFO refuses to consult with them on the geoduck fishery.
The group of harvesters claim that a protest organized by Elliott and other unknown people resulted in vessels entering Kulleet Bay to "harass, intimidate, threaten, block and otherwise interfere" with fishing operations, according to court documents filed in October. It also alleges that physical harm to the geoduck fishermen was threatened, "including harm to their oxygen supply if they continued fishing as aforesaid."
Members of the Underwater Harvesters Association suffered damages to their livelihood as a result of the vessels' actions, the group claims. They're seeking injunctions that would restrain members of the Stz'uminus Indian Band from approaching closer than 100 metres from licensed geoduck vessels engaged in geoduck fishing. The group is also seeking damages.
The defendants responded to the claim saying that no damages were sustained by the fishermen. But if they were, it would be the result of "acts and omissions" by the minister of the Fisheries and Oceans. The defendants also denied intimidating or threatening physical harm to the geoduck harvesters.
Calls by the Daily News to chief John Elliot were not immediately returned. However, in a September issue of the Stz'uminus First Nations newsletter, Elliot warns that if the UHA Research Society lawsuit is successful, many residents will have to leave their homes. A column under the heading "Letter from the Chief" said that on Aug. 9, several geoduck harvesters were fishing just a few metres from the beach and a 100-metre injunction would include people's homes.
"That just shows how ridiculous this lawsuit is. The UHA is acting like a big bully in a schoolyard. And the DFO is allowing it to happen," Elliot said in the column.
James Austin, president of the UHA, said he could not comment because the matter is still before the court. The next hearing date is not yet scheduled.
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