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POFO - Standing Committee

Fisheries and Oceans



OTTAWA, Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met with videoconference this day at 9:05 a.m. [ET] to examine the government Response to the fourth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, tabled with the Clerk of the Senate on July 12, 2022.

Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.


Senator Manning: Good morning, honourable senators. Welcome everyone. Before I start this morning’s meeting, I want to thank Senator Busson for filling in for me last week during my unexpected absence. My information leads me to believe that she did a wonderful job. I’m not surprised. The interpreters were expecting a Newfoundlander and they got someone from British Columbia, and it threw them off a bit, but they managed to get through. I’d like to thank everyone for that. I’m happy to be back.

My name is Fabian Manning, I’m a senator from Newfoundland and Labrador, and I have the pleasure of chairing this morning’s meeting. Today we are conducting a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Should any technical challenges arise, particularly in relation to interpretation, please signal this to the chair or the clerk and we will work to resolve this issue.

Before we begin, I would like to take a few moments to allow the members of the committee to introduce themselves, beginning with the senator on my left.

Senator Busson: Bev Busson, British Columbia.

Senator Cordy: Jane Cordy, Nova Scotia.

Senator McPhedran: Marilou McPhedran, Manitoba.

Senator Kutcher: Stan Kutcher, Nova Scotia.

Senator Quinn: Jim Quinn, New Brunswick.

Senator R. Patterson: Rebecca Patterson, Ontario.

The Chair: Thank you, senators.

On March 7, 2023, the government response to the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans’ fourth report entitled Peace on the Water was deposited with the clerk of the Senate. An order of reference to study the government response was referred to the committee on February 24, 2023.

Today, under this mandate, the committee will be hearing from the following witnesses from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I will ask the witnesses to introduce themselves, please, beginning with the people at the table.

Niall O’Dea, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Niall O’Dea, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Adam Burns, Assistant Deputy Minister, Aquatic Ecosystems and Fisheries Management, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Adam Burns, Assistant Deputy Minister, Aquatic Ecosystems and Fisheries Management at DFO.

The Chair: And our witnesses coming through on Zoom.

Doug Wentzell, Regional Director General, Maritimes Region, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Good morning, everybody. Doug Wentzell, Regional Director General for DFO in the Maritimes Region.

Serge Doucet, Regional Director General, Gulf Region, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Good morning, everyone. I’m Serge Doucet, Regional Director General from the Gulf Region in Moncton.


Sylvain Vézina, Regional Director General, Quebec Region, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Good morning. My name is Sylvain Vézina, Regional Director General, Quebec Region, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.


The Chair: Thank you all for being here this morning. I understand that Mr. O’Dea has some opening remarks on behalf of all of you. Following his presentation, members of the committee will have some questions for you.

Mr. O’Dea: I’d like to begin by acknowledging the land on which we gather as the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people. My colleagues and I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this committee on behalf of Fisheries and Oceans Canada regarding the government’s response to the committee report entitled Peace on the Water.

My colleagues have already had the chance to introduce themselves. We thank the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for its comprehensive report and recommendations. In particular, we commend the leadership of Senator Dan Christmas in helping to prepare this report prior to his retirement as we recognize the importance of these ongoing discussions in advancing meaningful reconciliation for our department.


The Government of Canada remains committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. This includes our commitment to work with Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik and Peskotomuhkati First Nations to continue to implement the right to fish and ensure a decent livelihood.


Since this historic treaty right was affirmed by the Supreme Court’s Marshall decisions in 1999, the department and treaty nations have worked hard to implement it. While we have seen successes, we recognize that there is work to be done to address the limitations of the current approach. We are examining and reflecting deeply on many perspectives and recommendations provided by Indigenous peoples, this Senate committee and stakeholders. Taken together, these perspectives will help shape our path forward.

Conservation and the sustainability of fish stocks for all remains a key objective. This is an area where Indigenous peoples provide important leadership. Through partnership, we are exploring ways to further incorporate Indigenous knowledge and build upon expertise in aquatic resource management. Since the Marshall decisions in 1999, the government has also made significant investments to increase the commercial access available to First Nations so that they can pursue their moderate livelihood right and that work continues.

Our goal is a fishery that is peaceful and prosperous, that upholds the Marshall decisions and that ensures treaty nations can exercise their rights in a way that is reflective of their visions and needs.

One such approach has been through the negotiation of formal, time-limited agreements called Reconciliation Framework Agreements. These agreements recognize but do not define the treaty nation’s right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood and aim to provide later clarity and predictability relating to how that right will be exercised. To date, five agreements have been signed involving six treaty nations. An additional two agreements involving 10 treaty nations are expected to be signed very soon. These agreements include the establishment of a collaborative management structure with representation from the department and the treaty nations to discuss, address and provide advice on fishing activities such as on access, seasons and enforcement measures.

The mandate to negotiate new rights and reconciliation agreements expired this spring, and there is now a clear opportunity to reflect and develop a new approach to advance consistent, predictable and collaborative fisheries arrangements. Most importantly, any new approach must meet the needs and interests of treaty nations. In the meantime, we will continue to use an array of tools to support Indigenous fisheries. As an example, interested treaty nations may still pursue moderate livelihood fishing plans. These plans are community developed understandings between interested treaty nations and Fisheries and Oceans Canada that aim to reflect communities’ visions for their fisheries. Since being introduced in 2021, the department has issued harvest documents based on moderate livelihood fishing plans to support 10 such understandings with 15 treaty nations.


As noted in the government response, the department has also taken steps to continue to implement the treaty rights fishery through a series of programs, such as the Post-Marshall Initiative, the Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative, and the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy. Collectively, Indigenous organizations fishing under communal commercial fishing licences generate more than $170 million in annual landings, and Indigenous communities benefit from more than $100 million in economic benefits.

Building on the progress made to date and guided by the committee’s recommendations, the department will work closely with treaty nations to better implement their right to fish for a moderate livelihood. This work will continue to be guided by three key principles: continued implementation of treaty rights, conservation and sustainability of fish stocks, and transparent and stable fisheries management.


We will also ensure that efforts to further implement rights‑based fishing are aligned with the Government of Canada’s ongoing implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. This includes taking steps to align laws, regulations, policies and practices related to rights‑based fisheries with the declaration as well as identifying and addressing any forms of discrimination or systemic inequities.

Since this law came into force in June 2021, the government has been working in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples to better understand their priorities for the action plan which will help to achieve the objectives of the declaration.

A draft action plan was released in March to support further engagement with Indigenous partners. Before being finalized, work is continuing to ensure that the final action plan will be comprehensive. This is transformational work and a whole‑of‑government responsibility. While there is much work still to be done, work with partners is continuing toward releasing the action plan in June of 2023.

Indigenous partners and relevant federal departments, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, will continue to work together after the publication of the action plan toward its implementation.


Together, these measures will help ensure that Indigenous fishers can safely and effectively exercise their treaty rights.

Thank you for your attention. We will be happy to answer your questions now.


The Chair: Thank you, Mr. O’Dea. Our first questions will be from the Deputy Chair of our committee, Senator Busson.

Senator Busson: Thank you both for being here. We’re here today to talk about the government’s response to our report, Peace on the Water.

I want to focus specifically on an aspect that we focused on, namely, recommendation 9(a). It urged your department:

. . . in cooperation with the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, and Peskotomuhkati people, to develop tools to engage and educate the public about rights-based fisheries . . . .

A lot of our discussions with regard to the fishery seems to be the fact that there’s a gross misunderstanding amongst the general public about rights-based fisheries generally and that mutual understanding would go a long way to actually achieve peace on the water.

In reply, the government included reference to the reconciliation curriculum offered by the Canada School of Public Service, but there was no specificity as to whether First Nations were involved in putting that curriculum together.

To what extent were First Nations included in the development of that curriculum for public service? How much of that is focused and based on privilege-based and rights-based fisheries?

Mr. O’Dea: To the best of my understanding — and, the Canada School of Public Service may be better placed to speak to this specifically — that curriculum was developed in close collaboration with nations and with national Indigenous organizations and is intended to help Canadians, and public servants in particular, to gain a better understanding of both the constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples as well as to understand rights contexts specific to treaty nations whether they be modern treaties or historic treaties.

Senator Busson: Specifically, I was hoping you could focus a little more directly on issues with regard to the public and rights‑based fisheries in the regions where these things seem to come to a head and there’s conflict. In some cases, we have witnesses telling us that people don’t seem to understand the basis and foundation of the principle of rights‑based fisheries.

In your opinion, could DFO be doing more to focus on this and create better understanding?

Mr. O’Dea: Thank you for the question. That’s certainly an area where we continue to place effort with our own web presence to set out explanatory information regarding the nature of these specific treaties and the obligations that exist there too, as well as working to outline the specific measures such as the rights and reconciliation agreements and moderate livelihood fishing plans, and other tools that we use to help meet the right in order that other stakeholders, and Canadians in general, can have a better understanding of what is required, what we are currently working to do and what that means for other Canadians.

Do we need to do more? Yes. Certainly, we hear from nations themselves that in some measure they would like to be at the front of that communication. That is, in essence, not having DFO necessarily be the vehicle to communicate that information, but more to work with nations for them to be able to communicate their vision of the rights and to work toward Canadians having a better understanding of what those rights mean and how to accommodate them better in our way of proceeding.

Senator Busson: Thank you. It’s encouraging to hear that First Nations are being involved.

Senator Quinn: Thank you for being back with us this morning.

I want to go further down the path of rights‑based fisheries. This has been a long-standing issue. You have a difficult file. There is no question. Since being on this committee, I’ve learned more about the rights‑based fisheries and some of the challenges. What are some of those?

Why aren’t we moving quicker? What is the fear? What does the department fear of moving fully into a rights‑based fishery? What is the definition of a rights‑based fishery, coming back to Canadians having to understand what that means? I have my understanding but it’s probably wrong. What is that definition in the mind of the department?

What’s preventing the department from moving more quickly to enshrine rights‑based fisheries, as I understand them? It’s been ongoing. I was in Fisheries for a number of years. It’s the same discussion. Here we are. It’s a generational thing now. It’s becoming a generational issue. It just seems to be passing from generation to generation, but never focused on what it means. What are we afraid of?

Mr. O’Dea: A very thoughtful question. I will provide a response. I’m happy to have others contribute.

It is a complex issue. Rights-based fisheries can take a variety of forms. Some of those emanate from historic treaties, as in the case of Indigenous nations in the Atlantic and Quebec. Some of them emanate from modern treaty, as we see in other parts of the country. Some of those are enshrined in our constitution. Each of these place different obligations on the government in respect of how we move forward to meet them.

In the context of moderate livelihood fishing in particular, I think the 1999 Marshall decisions obviously made a step toward providing a greater definition of what had been acknowledged as historically under- or unrecognized rights that emanated from those treaties that needed to be accommodated and respected. That particular right is this right to being able to secure a moderate livelihood from that fishery.

Its complexity, I think, is reflected in the fact that the Supreme Court actually came to the question twice within the course of a few months to try and bring greater precision to it. Really, that is around the right enshrined in treaty for nations to be able to earn a moderate livelihood from access and sale of fish that they caught.

To the question of why it’s been challenging, as members will appreciate, unlike many other resources or areas of competency for the federal government, the fishery resources are limited and, in some places, declining and have historically been fully subscribed by existing people dependent on that resource.

That inherently makes it a more challenging question when it comes to creating the space necessary to accommodate the rights that others who have been historically excluded have and to ensure that they can have that opportunity to participate in a way that allows them to make that moderate livelihood. In that regard, I think we’ve seen some significant progress. I spoke a little bit to that in my opening remarks in terms of increasing the share of the overall fishery that First Nations enjoy and the economic benefits that they receive from it.

Clearly, when it comes to a treaty right — and this is nation-to-nation conversation — we need to increasingly recognize that that is about us having a better understanding of the vision of nations regarding how they wish to exercise the right — not just the share of the fishery that they enjoy or the economic benefits they receive from it, but actually the approach that they wish to take to pursuing it.

That’s where we’ve looked to diversify the set of tools that we have at our disposal over the course of time in order to accommodate that vision. It’s been an ongoing and, at times, challenging reciprocal conversation about how to make the space and how, for us, to better understand the vision that nations have for that right, and how we can build the diversity of our tool set to accommodate it in a way that also respects the minister’s responsibility at a broader or different level, which is to ensure the conservation of the stock.

That requires ensuring that the pursuit of moderate livelihood fishing, in conjunction with other fisheries — such as the commercial fishery — happens in a way that, overall, preserves the sustainability of those stocks for the future.

Senator Quinn: I could summarize it briefly. Thank you. That’s a great, informative answer. Trying to boil it down, it’s fear of overfishing a particular stock and the sustainability of fish stocks. We need to ensure that our fish stocks aren’t depleted.

Back to the rights; they’re enshrined in the constitution that they have the rights to fish. We’re trying to define what that means relevant to the stocks.

Back to my colleague’s first question: Is there a concentrated effort? The department of Fisheries and Oceans has lots of things on the go. The general public, in small communities where fishing is the heartbeat of the community, I’m going to bet that they have very little understanding of the rights of First Nations people to have access to fisheries.

Moderate livelihood must be another one. What does that mean? It means something different to me than it means to others as individuals. How do you quantify what a moderate livelihood is and yet, at the same time, have communities understand that First Nations people — whether I or they like it, or not — have the inherent right of access to the fishery?

What is the concentrated effort? Does the department visualize, I hate to put it this way, but a task force to educate the people in the fishing communities themselves? The secondary audience is people at large, the people in Toronto, for example. It’s the people in those communities where conflict and tensions develop, because they don’t have the fundamental understanding that it’s a privilege‑based fishery versus a rights‑based fishery. I’m not sure what efforts the department has made to ensure that the educational component is more prevalent in the discussion.

Mr. Burns: I would start by noting that many concerns you are expressing are ones that the department takes into account and that the minister considers on a daily basis and is at the core of what we’re trying to do.

For example, we meet with the Canadian Independent Fish Harvester’s Federation on a regular basis. A central focus of those discussions is exploring the moderate livelihood right and the work that the government is doing to meet that right.

In terms of quantifying it, that isn’t the approach that we have been taking. Rather, we have been taking one of working on a nation-to-nation basis in order to identify and understand the vision that a given nation has. The vision for a fishery in a particular nation, that’s not homogenous. Different nations have different visions. We do work on a nation-to-nation basis to identify what the objectives are for that nation, then work to be able to meet that vision.

In terms of the transfer of access, part of what the government has stated is that our approach is primarily founded on a willing‑buyer, willing-seller basis, recognizing that it is fully subscribed. Our fisheries are fully subscribed. In order to transition access to rights holders, it needs to come with consideration of the fact that it is a fully subscribed fishery.

For example, the government has provided $630 million in the last 23 years, since the Marshall decisions. The cumulative landing of First Nations over these years is over $2 billion in fish access. Certainly, that’s not a suggestion that the work is done. It is indeed just a reflection of where we are in the path of working with nations in order to provide access that meets their vision for their fisheries.

Senator Quinn: Again on moderate livelihood, the non‑Aboriginal fishers, what is the thinking around their approach to moderate livelihood? Do they have constraints? Do they have language around their ability to access the fisheries in terms of moderate livelihood, or is it just go, fish and do what you can do? Have there ever been discussions about moderate livelihood in relation to their participation in the fisheries?

Mr. Burns: Non-Aboriginal Canadians do not have a right to fish, it is a privilege to fish. We don’t really approach the distribution of access for non-Indigenous harvesters with a consideration of moderate livelihood because, of course, it is a very small subset of non-Indigenous Canadians who have access. So it is based more on those who have been granted the privilege to fish as opposed to whether or not a particular individual has access to a moderate livelihood.

Senator Quinn: I imagine that would create tension in and of itself. Some fishers who are non-Indigenous do quite well, and for others there is a definition around a moderate livelihood. It is just a tough nut to figure out.

Mr. O’Dea: That is a thoughtful point. I would say that moderate livelihood is a starting point but not the end point of where we would wish to see Indigenous participation in the fishery exist. There is that inscribed right, of course, but in a broader reconciliation context, for example, like the Clearwater deal where you have Mi’kmaq leadership with a majority ownership in that very significant commercial fishing enterprise is a sign of reconciliation in regard to building broader participation in the economy. That is all to say that moderate livelihood is not a limit, it is an obligation on the federal government to meet. If anything, it is a starting point to where Indigenous nations can participate in the industry.

Senator Kutcher: I have a few questions to follow up on. I understand that Senator Ravalia gave me his time. No? I can’t blame a Nova Scotian for trying. Absolutely. Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

I’m going to go back to the biblical parable of the sower, where some seeds fell on thorny ground and some on fertile ground. Guess where the crops came in? If we are dealing with education, which is fundamental for Canadians, particularly in coastal communities, and I go and talk to people in those communities about what a rights‑based fishery means, a passive website doesn’t cut it. I’m glad you have a website, but nobody I have talked with has ever seen it. We have educators in the room here, as well as myself. What is the plan? I would like to see the plan. I would like you to bring us the plan that you have for going beyond a passive website to provide educational opportunities for coastal communities that are developed in collaboration with or in support of Indigenous communities to actually start to create a fertile ground so that people will understand what the issue is. I think much of the conflict we are seeing on our wharves is because people don’t understand. With all due respect, having a website with information is not going to change understanding. I would like to know what plan you have on this particular issue.

Mr. O’Dea: I appreciate the question and to note that we certainly recognize that websites have their limitations in terms of reach. They are intended to be a resource to which people can refer. Obviously, they need to be pointed to those resources through other forms of conversation.

One example of the work that we are doing in that regard is we have worked with the Canadian Independent Fish Harvester’s Federation, who represent a significant portion of those non-Indigenous harvesters involved in the sector, to facilitate workshops that allow for that integrated learning about treaty rights, their relevance to those harvesters and helping them gain a better understanding of how it should operate. We have seen some productive conversations, and some progress being made in developing an understanding through these discussions. That is intended to be more at the ground level in recognition that these issues are complex to absorb at face value, and provides a space in which willing Indigenous leadership can engage with those harvesters to help build that understanding.

Mr. Burns: Senator, you mentioned the wharves in coastal communities. The key presence of the department in those communities and on the wharves are fisheries officers. Another area of focus within our conservation and protection program is education. Our fishery officers are not just out there issuing fines and charging people under the Fisheries Act. A key pillar of their work is education in order to better enable them to undertake that work on the wharves. Speaking with the harvesters whom they see every day, they have a relationship and are often trusted by them, so they are the right interface in many cases with fish harvesters to talk about this.

In order to enable and empower our fisheries officers to be able to have those conversations, we have a focus on this in our training programs for fishery officers. That includes sessions within our training curriculum that consist of entire days with Indigenous elders, for example, so that our officers can, as my colleague noted earlier, have that direct interaction with the rights holders in order to directly understand those perspectives.

The focus on training and understanding of the rights and ensuring that our fisheries officers understand that does also play a role. None of those things are silver bullets, but they are all part of a continuum of education in order to work toward a shared and a common understanding of the nature of the right and of the work that the department is doing to address that right.

Senator Kutcher: Thank you both very much for those answers. I appreciate the work you are doing, and I think it’s a good start.

One observation is that is not a plan. Those are two activities. I didn’t hear from you that you have a strategic plan and this is the goal we hope for and this is how we will get there. I would ask you to provide the committee with a plan that you are going to use for this instead of two activities.

Let’s get back to the activities, these fish harvester workshops. Can you provide us with data about how many you have had, who has come, what the effectiveness of those interventions has been and whether it has changed attitudes or behaviour? I would like to see whether or not those activities having an impact. And not just a self-report — “I felt better after I took the course or went to the workshop” — we would like to see the data.

Same with the fisheries officers. I appreciate it takes time to change the culture of an organization. Racism is ingrained. I use ingrained instead of systemic because it is in all of us, me, you, everyone around the table. It is ingrained in us and then it becomes ingrained into our systems because we don’t even realize it is in us. It is very difficult to change, we know that, and I’m very appreciative of what you are doing, but we hear from Indigenous fishers that the fisheries officers don’t seem to understand this. I’m hearing one thing from one group — I appreciate your efforts. Can you give us data on what courses these fisheries officers take and what effect they have? I’m hoping you have that on how effective the training and intervention is, because if we don’t have the data on training and intervention then we don’t know whether what we are doing is having the desired outcome. I would like to see any data you have on that, if you don’t mind.

Those are the two things: What kind of plan do you have to address the educational part? And going forward, the data you have done and how effective it has been.

Chair, do I have another 20 seconds? Thank you. My beloved chair, being from Newfoundland, he knows that 20 seconds means 20 minutes. I will proceed, but I’ll be careful. Thank you, sir.

Talking about the racism again — and I appreciate what you have done — I’m going to go back to page 8, if you don’t mind. You are involved in this anti-racism strategy. Could we get information from you? If you don’t have it here, could you provide to us what role DFO is playing in this strategy? What impact has it had on what DFO is doing in terms of process, what activities you are doing, and outcomes, and what change has it made in people or in organizations?

The other thing is you talked about the Canadian Coast Guard hosting the third edition of a national Symposium on the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion in the Federal Public Service. That’s one symposium. With all due respect, one symposium on an issue like ingrained racism is not going to cut it. Even with that, I’m glad to see it because it’s a start. Again, I would like to see who was there, what the activities were and what were the outcomes of those activities?

You talked about the Canada School of Public Service anti-racism series. I think that’s a good start as well. It says that you are encouraging people to participate in various opportunities. With all due respect, encouraging people and making it mandatory are two very different kinds of things. I would like to know how many people in DFO have actually participated in those opportunities. Surely, you train that. We asked for that data before but we never got it. Please get it for us. How many people have trained and what sections have they gone through in these programs? Also, what impact has these programs made? Although there is a science around these programs, some programs have been shown to have little or no impact on changing attitudes and behaviours and some programs have actually shown negative impact. We would love to know what impact those programs are having on dealing with this wicked problem. It is really hard to grasp. I think other senators talked about that.

You talked about regularly promoting new learning activities and tools. Again, I think that’s fantastic, but I don’t know what they are. Could you come back to us with what is your plan within DFO? That is, your educational plan in the communities through fish harvesters, fisheries officers and whatever other ideas you have. A lot of other educational activities could be done. Also, give us your plan from within DFO. What about these programs that people are taking? Are they encouraged or expected to do so? Is it part of their employment? When new employees are hired, do they have to take these programs as a condition of employment?

This is a many-headed hydra. I appreciate the challenges that you are having. We have them. I’m from a medical background, and we have the same problems in spades regarding health care. I would love it if you could come back to us with some of that information and detail. It would help us to understand because we want to be helpful. If you need more money to do it, then tell us you need more money. We want to be helpful to you.

The Chair: Witnesses, I believe there are several questions in Senator Kutcher’s comments, so feel free to answer whatever you can. In his comments, he suggested that if you cannot provide the information here today to send it to us. I’ll leave the answers to you, but some of the things that Senator Kutcher has raised involve some of the important issues we are dealing with at this committee. We are finding ourselves spinning our wheels with you, to be honest, in trying to get some of these answers. The overall feeling of the committee regarding the questions that Senator Kutcher asked is that they are the main impetus of what we are doing here.

Mr. O’Dea: We would be happy to provide the committee with further information on those plans in both respects, both the internal and the external. I think that would provide a more comprehensive response to the question.

I would note a couple of things. You asked a specific question about how we worked on and are working in the broader Government of Canada anti-racism strategy. We were direct contributors to that, working with other colleagues across government in identifying challenges and working toward action plans. Within our own department, there is an Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, that we can provide which provides a list of activities structured around objectives. I won’t go into great detail here, but we can provide it laterally.

On the data side, particularly in the data around effectiveness, as we know, in anti-racism work, a lot of different approaches have been pursued over time. It can be quite challenging to measure things like changes in attitude. I think there is significant, ongoing work on that. I don’t know that we have great data on the hearts and minds outcomes, but we have certain forms of data that we can offer in terms of uptake of that program and also the data that informs the type of curricula that are set by the Canada school and that we employ in our own department to give you an example of what the intended effect of that work is.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Kutcher.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much for being back here again. I know it’s not just the time here in front of us, it’s the time getting ready to present.

I read about the government response, and you talked about the buy-back program. You insinuated in your first paragraph that it was working but when you read the subsequent paragraphs, it’s clear that it’s really not working. You spoke about willing buyer, willing seller. We heard from our witnesses that there are not many licences to buy. They are very rare and those licences that are available — because they are rare; that’s business — are extremely expensive. Some of the smaller nations are not able to purchase them and, for those that do, they can only buy one licence because it’s well over $1 million to buy it.

If it is not working the way that it should, which is what we heard, then how can you make it more feasible? There are a limited number of licences. I get that. We are looking at the whole fishery. We don’t want to overfish. On the other hand, if there is a buy-back program that is not working, how are we going to solve that issue? We heard it not just from one witness but we heard it over and over again.

Mr. Burns: Thank you for the question, senator. The government remains committed to a willing buyer, willing seller and to making that process work as our first preferred option in terms of the transition of access. However, there is no doubt that it does have some challenges. Each year, many licences move from an existing harvester to a new entrant across Atlantic Canada.

We have undertaken work in recent years with the Canadian Independent Fish Harvester’s Federation and, more specifically, directly with harvester associations across the Maritime provinces, given the focus of the discussion we are having today. These organizations are very willing to work with us on identifying harvesters who are at a point in their career where they are looking to exit the fishery and are eager or interested to participate in this approach to reconciliation where they would transfer their licence through the willing buyer, willing seller process.

That work continues. It speaks to the education and the public work that the department is engaged in and will continue to engage in to enable that transition better. We also acknowledge, though, that the absence of a willing seller cannot be a justification for the government and the department not fulfilling the right. We have undertaken other approaches in instances where those willing sellers have not been available at a fair market price. We continue to look at that. In terms of reconciliation, the government continues to have a first focus on achieving the transition of access and meeting the access that nations have, meeting their objectives for their fishery through the willing-buyer, willing-seller process.

Senator Cordy: I’m from Nova Scotia. I remember the case well. The frustration is that the Marshall decisions were made 24 years ago. People who were fishing then, some are retired. It has been a long time. Still there are a lot of frustrations.

You spoke about, with the absence of sellers, other approaches are being taken. What are the other approaches so that people would have access to licences? I understand you can’t just start dolling out thousands of licences. What other approaches are you looking at?

Mr. Burns: There are a variety. We work with nations in order to structure their fisheries access in a way that meets their communities’ needs; that includes, in some instances, using what we refer to as latent capacity, in particular in the lobster fishery.

Senators would be aware of the approach the minister has taken in the last couple of years on the elver fishery where the first allocation of the quota has gone to some Indigenous communities. Those are two examples of approaches.

Certainly, we are open to looking at others in the context of that first objective being the willing-buyer, willing-seller transition of access.

Senator Cordy: We also had a witness speaking about the conflicts that occur when they are fishing. I have seen in southwest Nova Scotia a number of years ago where storage sheds being burned and nets destroyed. The media tends to slant it, look at what the Indigenous fishers are doing, causing this havoc on the water when, indeed, there is not a full recognition that they have the legal right to fish. That is what I think is missing.

Going back to Senator Kutcher’s point about education of the public on this, and maybe a website isn’t enough to do that, I have read that the conflict is a result of the Crown’s failure to recognize and implement the fishing rights. People are not understanding that.

We also heard from Chief Gould from P.E.I. and Ken Paul from New Brunswick, that often these conflicts related to fisheries then transfer over to the school system where there are fights on the schoolyard between Indigenous and non-Indigenous because of what is happening on the water, which is not good for a community and certainly not good for the Indigenous fisheries. How do we deal with those things? They are a reality in the fishing communities.

We heard it, not just from Chief Gould and Mr. Paul, but from others that this is a reality. How do we deal with that? That’s also a part of the non-education of the rights, the Indigenous fishing rights?

Mr. Burns: I would offer a few thoughts. At the community level, increased and a further focus on education is absolutely something that the department continues to work on. Of course, the government continues to work on it, it is not just DFO. That is a critical piece.

Certainly, it is also necessary to look at the approach that the government takes in fulfilling the Indigenous communities’ plans for their fishing activity in terms of access that is needed in order for them to be able to fulfill their right and the vision that they have. The obligation is on the government to find ways to enable that vision. There is no doubt.

At the harvester level, that is where the focus comes to willing buyer, willing seller and finding ways to ensure that access is available to the First Nation communities in order to meet their vision for the fishery, and to do that in ways that respects the considerations of the coastal communities. This is not to say that those considerations can be a barrier to meeting the Indigenous communities and fulfilling their plans and objectives for their community in terms of its fishery.

It is part of the reason why we focused on the willing-buyer, willing-seller approach and invested in programs that seek to obtain access needed through that mechanism.

Senator Cordy: Education is a provincial jurisdiction. Are you working with the provinces to create programs within the school systems related to the rights of the Indigenous fishers, or the rights of Indigenous peoples overall?

Mr. O’Dea: I turn to Doug Wentzell, who is our regional director general for the Maritimes, to provide a specific example in this case. I know that they have close relationships with the province.

Mr. Wentzell, will you be able to speak to that?

Mr. Wentzell: Thank you, senator, for the question.

I would add a couple of things. We work very closely not only with provincial colleagues, but with a number of colleagues across the federal family as well in terms of supporting the implementation of the rights.

We have a formal coordination committee that meets twice a week. This is to deal with not just how we support greater awareness of Indigenous rights, and how they are exercised, but also the core, fundamental issues of ensuring safety on the water.

We work with RCMP colleagues. We work with colleagues across various enforcement agencies to coordinate capacity and assets to support harvesters on the water as they fish, and to support an orderly, well-managed fishery.

The education piece, the thing I would add is that we are working closely with all partners across jurisdictions, but I would say specifically with Indigenous governments, because we are talking about their rights.

We have some good examples in our region where we have worked to offer one with the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik where we have supported a summit about a year ago where the nation was able to engage, not just within their community, but outside of their community to bring people together and talk about why rights are important, what they mean and how they transcend even the act of fishing because, as much as there is the right to fish that is predicated on the fact that there are fish.

They were able to talk about the importance of conservation and fish passage, and why the community is so active in that regard. That public dialogue that those fostered, and the social media coverage we were able to generate as a result of it, were positive and something we are looking to duplicate across communities. Again, that brought together provincial and federal partners, but really focused and led by the community, so I would offer that as one example.

Senator Cordy: Thank you.

Senator R. Patterson: You are making progress, that’s very obvious. But as we said, it has been many years. As we move truly into the era of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, we know their ability to sustain their lives is going to be very important.

One of the other things we have heard from witnesses specifically relates to governance. As I’m trying to wrap my head around where this is, we certainly have Canadian agreements on anti-racism. We have to keep in mind that Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which takes it to a higher level. Ultimately, Indigenous people are their own nations who negotiate with the Government of Canada.

As we move forward, one of the things we are hearing is that we are having two conversations on two different levels. We know that the Government of Canada has the right to place the responsibility to negotiate with the department of their choice, but I think what seems to be missing in the discussions is how we actually establish what those rights are. It’s fine to say co-development and co-design, but determining rights and what that means — we’re good. As executioners at the department level, we do that. One of the recommendations that came out was that the governance, especially for disputes, is something outside of Fisheries. In terms of Crown-Indigenous Relations, shouldn’t the governance of Indigenous rights to fishing, in alignment with what we have set out, be negotiated outside of Fisheries? If there is an issue, then you have an arbitrator so that you are not creating the policy, applying the policy, enforcing and adjudicating.

I would like to know what your thoughts are on whether Fisheries is the place to do the determination of nation-to-nation negotiations, because when I hear these discussions, we are slipping between rights‑based and privilege‑based. We seem to swing far more toward privilege‑based and, “I can take it away from you.” That is a statement, not a judgment. I want to get your thoughts on where the true decision on what rights means should sit, and does it belong with Crown-Indigenous Relations?

Mr. O’Dea: Thank you for the question. Nation-to-nation agreements employ a multi-departmental approach that is intended to recognize the distinct roles and responsibilities of each department. DFO works very closely with other departments to advance that whole-of-government approach, and in particular, that does involve working on a very close, ongoing basis with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. That would happen at the headquarters level and, as our colleague Mr. Wentzell mentioned, in respect of the ongoing work at the regional level.

DFO’s regulation or regulatory role in respect of rights‑based fishing is consistent with the minister’s statutory powers, and as this committee would very much appreciate, it is a highly complex area of competency where, as a regulator, the department has the resources to tackle those questions. But we recognize that when it comes to the establishment of a right and the understanding of treaty mechanisms and non-treaty mechanisms that we need to depend on and work very closely with our friends at Crown-Indigenous Relations to make sure our approaches are consistent with the broader frame of rights that they would seek to pursue.

In that respect, you spoke about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Interestingly, that effort is actually being led by the Department of Justice and it is a very big enterprise. There are some 1,300 actions that nations and Indigenous partners have identified that they would like to see pursued as a matter of priority in the government’s initial action plan. DFO has been identified for the lead on six of those actions. That will be a very important parallel discussion to what’s happening in the direct context of moderate livelihood fishing with an interest and commitment to pursue amendments and reforms to fisheries legislation, regulation and policies where they may be inconsistent with visions that First Nations or other Indigenous groups have around the exercise of their rights, whether those be constitutional or treaty. That action plan is intended to be released in June, and will provide an overarching, whole-of-government plan where DFO will have a particular role in working with nations to advance it.

Senator R. Patterson: I come from Ontario, and as I was saying a little bit earlier, we met with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

One thing I asked them was about inland fisheries. I know that’s not the subject of this report here, as when we talk about complex jurisdictional issues, as well as the fact that Indigenous peoples have a relation with the Crown as opposed to the province or with the United States of America.

I’m wondering how DFO helps facilitate what is really a federal responsibility in terms of treaty rights for Indigenous people on the Great Lakes because there are fisheries on the Great Lakes, recognizing jurisdictionally as provincial. There are international and there are all these different borders, but you have a federal entity in there, which are the rights of Indigenous people.

Do you have any input on how that is managed by DFO? How do you support Indigenous fishers in there? From what I was told yesterday, it happens to be very good people, whether it be the commissioners appointed by Ontario, et cetera, who include them in discussions, but a haphazard approach to Indigenous people fishing in the Great Lakes should be consistent with what we do in our coastal areas.

Mr. O’Dea: It’s a very good question. It’s a slightly different context than the nations we are speaking to where there is a particular set of historic treaties. In the Great Lakes region, the management of inland fisheries is largely a responsibility delegated to the province by instruments within the Fisheries Act. We have a series of regulations for the fishery in Ontario that we work on with the province, and in that exercise of regulatory development, we have the opportunity to ensure that there is an alignment of the obligations that rest on the federal government with respect to the Fisheries Act and that those cascade to what the province executes or performs on our behalf.

In respect to Indigenous participation in Great Lakes fisheries, the province does take on the direct role to manage those relations. I have not heard particular challenges in terms of the involvement of nations in that exercise, but certainly if there were, it would be appropriate for nations to flag those either to the Government of Ontario or ourselves directly, and we would work with the Government of Ontario to make sure that those were addressed appropriately. Of course, in the context of the Great Lakes fishery, we do have a co-management regime with the U.S., particularly around the eradication of the sea lamprey. That is a very important ongoing exercise and one that has had a huge value to the preservation of Great Lakes fisheries over the past 17 years.

Senator R. Patterson: Thank you. That was good information. I have other questions about lamprey eels, but I will save that for another time.

Senator McPhedran: Thank you for making the time to be here and to have so many of your colleagues available. I want to go back to points that have been raised related to the rights‑based fisheries concerns that this whole committee has articulated pretty clearly in our report, Peace on the Water.

I hear you, Mr. O’Dea, referencing the Crown-Indigenous Relations interaction. I’d like to know more about what this actually looks like in practical terms. Who is doing the liaison? Who is responsible for those communications between Crown-Indigenous Relations and Fisheries and Oceans? What are the targets? What are the measurements that you’re using to determine whether these interactions are actually creating the outcomes that will we all need to see?

Mr. O’Dea: Mr. Burns, I’m going to ask you to speak to the specifics of the operational development. I would say from a policy development perspective, we work very closely with Crown-Indigenous Relations to make sure that our go-forward approaches are framed in a way that, to the previous senators’ questions, are consistent with our obligations under the UNDA and otherwise, but in terms of the operational perspective in the day-to-day working with nations my colleague and regional colleagues may have more to say.

Mr. Burns: I can tell you that our negotiators and my staff in the organization who have daily interactions with Indigenous communities and work with them on their vision specifically related to the fishery are very actively integrated with folks at Crown-Indigenous Relations, with ongoing dialogue, partnership and governance internal to the federal government to ensure that there is a whole-of-government approach to the interaction with nations.

In some instances, the nations primarily focus is on the fishery. So the primary interface with those nations would be with DFO. In other instances, nations have a broader set of objectives where it might be more appropriate for that interface to be led by CIRNAC.

In the case of the 35 —

Senator McPhedran: Did I hear, “might be appropriate,” which means it is not currently the case?

Mr. Burns: No, it is the case now. In terms of the 35 treaty nations specifically related to the report, those nations work directly with DFO when it comes to aspects related to their fishery objectives. Indeed, all 35 of those nations work directly with DFO with respect to their Atlantic-integrated commercial fishery initiative funding and the access funding that comes through that program.

We’re very pleased that we’ve worked closely with them, and now all 35 of those nations are engaged directly with the department on that.

In terms of their access to food, social and ceremonial fisheries, those would be discussions that nations would have directly with the department as well. When it comes to the fisheries aspects, DFO is the lead and the face of the federal government with those nations. However, in all instances, we are closely aligned with CIRNAC at all levels, from the working level straight on up. There are regular engagement and coordination in order to have that whole-of-government approach.

Senator McPhedran: Thank you for that. I’m just trying to understand more deeply the answers that you’ve given. I have two questions that I think are connected.

First, when you talk about Fisheries and Oceans being the interface directly with the 35 nations that are involved, what is the interaction between any of those nations and CIRNAC, or must they go through Fisheries and Oceans in order to engage? That’s question one.

Question two, for those who are actively engaged and responsible in the management levels within Fisheries and Oceans in regard to our current discussion, how many identify as Indigenous?

Mr. Burns: I can answer the first question. Mr. O’Dea might be able to answer the second question.

In terms of the interactions between First Nations and the Government of Canada, we don’t take an approach where nations are restricted as to whom they can engage with. We seek to have a whole-of-government approach. For example, the Reconciliation Framework Agreements are a whole-of-government discussion. We work directly with and have internal governance structures within the Government of Canada to ensure that those interactions reflect a whole-of-government approach.

No, none of the 35 nations has to go through DFO. We would seek to work with the nations to ensure that, from a whole-of-government perspective, the right officials are available to be engaged in order to discuss a particular right or issue. If it’s related to fisheries already, the appropriate officials would be at DFO. If it’s related to something else, they might be somewhere else.

Senator McPhedran: If I’m understanding that answer correctly, there have been or there could be direct interactions between any of the nations, singularly or collectively, directly with CIRNAC on matters of the rights‑based fishery.

Mr. Burns: I couldn’t speak to what discussions have occurred with CIRNAC, but it is —

Senator McPhedran: [Technical difficulties]

Mr. Burns: I don’t have knowledge as to whether those discussions occur, but I can say that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans’ primary responsibility is related to fisheries. DFO is engaged in those discussions on a regular basis and works directly with CIRNAC on that.

Mr. O’Dea: To the question of Indigenous representation within DFO, we undertake active work to recruit and retain Indigenous employees across our workforce, including at the executive level. Within the particular region in question here, in the Maritimes, Indigenous people are represented in every occupational group but one. We’re still seeking to build that representation in the research scientist community, but otherwise there is representation across the board. It is likewise in other areas, such as the Quebec and Gulf region. We can provide more specific statistics to that measure.

Senator McPhedran: Please send to the committee the actual numbers and where they are placed within the executive management cohort.

Mr. O’Dea: We can provide that.

Mr. Burns: Senator, I would add one final point. At the main negotiating table, when we are negotiating the rights reconciliation agreement, DFO and CIRNAC are represented at the table, along with the Indigenous communities. So there is that direct interaction.

Senator McPhedran: Is there a lead as between DFO and CIRNAC in those discussions?

Mr. Burns: I don’t think that is the approach that’s taken. It’s a whole-of-government presence.

Senator McPhedran: Thank you.

The Chair: Senator Patterson, you had some follow-up questions, but you’re good now? Okay.

I want to thank our witnesses for their presentation this morning and for their answers to the questions from our senators. I would reiterate that any information that you were asked for, could you get it to our committee as soon as you possibly can, to assist us with our work. Thank you.

(The committee adjourned.)

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