Letter to the Editor
By Crystal Somebody
In April, angry fishermen broke into the Ocean Fisheries Centre. They smashed in windows and beat down a locked front door, and they strode down its corridors, demanding to be heard by particular DFO staff.
Jan Woodford, regional director for DFO, told media she was terrified. 20 years at the job, and it was the first time she’d never felt threatened or scared. The RNC was called to the scene, and employees were told to stay inside their offices with doors locked.
Still, fisheries managers at DFO agreed to meet with these people there and then, if the protestors would kindly leave the secure part of the building, to ensure the safety of staff, and have an impromptu meeting in the cafeteria. DFO, understanding the fish harvesters’ collective frustration, did not press charges. They knew what it would look like to try and fine or jail locals worried about providing for their families.
The protestors did not like the 63% reduction in shrimp quotas in Area 6, and felt that because they live on the northeast coast and southern Labrador (shrimp fishing Area 6), they should get first crack at fishing the shrimp in that area, over fishers from other places. They felt their livelihoods were in jeopardy. So they took a semi-violent stand.
Shortly thereafter, Beatrice Hunter similarly stood up for herself when she felt her quality of life would be affected by Nalcor’s operation in Labrador. The difference was, she peacefully and reasonably told a judge, no, I won’t stay away from peaceful protests outside the gates of Nalcor’s operation at Muskrat Falls. And for that, she was thrown into an all-male jail in St. John’s, strip searched, and endangered among violent criminals in an overcrowded jail.
Nalcor saw fit to lay charges on a non-violent, peaceful protestor: what a bleak world. Yes, Hunter was given the option by a judge to avoid prison time if she agreed to stay away from Muskrat Falls, but to quote her, “I was defiant of the court system because I know our ancestors had no say in how those laws were written.”
This letter to the editor is not judging the actions of the fisher-protestors. Godspeed to them and Beatrice both, for standing up for their cause. This letter is passing judgement on how white men can get away with Breaking and Entering and damaging property, and scaring people, while an indigenous woman is jailed for peacefully protesting. That speaks to two things: our collective racism in NL, maybe, but certainly Nalcor’s consistently abysmal PR — their public relations is an atrocity.
The optics of being okay with jailing a woman, because her freedom of speech inconveniences you, is poor PR, especially when your company is already public enemy #1. There were dozens of ways to handle that better. And ditto for how they sent journalist Justin Brake to court for covering protests during the flooding of Lake Melville. News outlets internationally picked that story up: a crown corporation took a journalist to court for doing his job! What a gobsmacker, who does that? It single-handedly knocked Canada’s Freedom of Press ranking down a few notches, literally, it did.
For years, Nalcor has done a piss poor job communicating with us, while wondering why we’re confused and angry at them. And this is coming from someone who still believes in the potential of Muskrat Falls. Yeah, it’s costing billions, but will ultimately net us money in the long run. And I would love to see us switch to clean, reliable energy over that gross, failing crapshoot in Holyrood that — as Nalcor should be telling us — is not going to be able to power our province soon. Remember Dark NL? Expect way more of that soon, as our demand for power exceeds Holyrood’s ability to provide it.
Nalcor has virtually no intelligent, thoughtful communications strategy to educate and appease the masses. They seemingly prefer the mind your own business, and screw off or we’ll press charges approach. So middle fingers right back at you, Nalcor, until you’re willing to admit you’re being a backwards bully about how you operate.
Stop. Stop, and put yourself in the shoes of the people complaining and bend a little, compromise, it’s what relationships are all about, and it’s why your relationship with the people of the province is in the dumps: communication and compromise is vital to any relationship. We don’t know what you’re up to, because you won’t tell us. All we know is you’re spending billions of our dollars, and you’re willing to jail our journalists and indigenous elders if they cross you. No one likes that kind of guy.