Shxwha:y Village Chief Robert Gladstone at a rally at the Chilliwack courthouse in 2016 to support him in his fight against a fisheries act charge he faces. In court on Feb. 15, 2018 the trial was delayed yet again. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress file)

Shxwha:y Village Chief Robert Gladstone at a rally at the Chilliwack courthouse in 2016 to support him in his fight against a fisheries act charge he faces. In court on Feb. 15, 2018 the trial was delayed yet again. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress file)

Chilliwack Indigenous leader’s illegal fishing trial delayed yet again

Charge against Chief Robert Gladstone equated to ‘arresting a Catholic priest for giving communion’

Three years after a local First Nation chief was charged with illegally fishing for ceremonial purposes, there is still no resolution.

Shxwha:y Village Chief Robert Gladstone and about 15 supporters were at the Chilliwack Law Courts Feb. 15 where Gladstone was supposed to go to trial for illegal fishing in 2015.

• READ MORE: Rally in 2016 at Chilliwack courthouse underlines right to sacred salmon

The group rallied with Indigenous drumming before going in to courtroom 204 for the scheduled two-day trial. Instead, Judge Wendy Young informed the Crown and Gladstone’s lawyers there wasn’t enough time to go ahead with the trial, and it would have to be postponed.

“I was under the impression we might get somewhere today,” Gladstone said outside the courtroom alongside his frustrated supporters who want the case to be heard or the charges dropped.

Tentative dates were put forward for the trial May 29 and 30.

The controversial case goes back to March 2015 when Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) would not authorize a Pilalt ceremonial fishery, but aboriginal fishers went out anyway. (Pilalt is a group of local Fraser River First Nations bands.)

The First Salmon Ceremony is traditional among local Sto:lo bands to honour the fish that are sacred to the people, and to usher in the return of the salmon to the Fraser.

Coincidentally, with spring approaching, the time is coming for yet another First Salmon Ceremony. Gladstone was asked if he and others would go out to fish again despite the potential for charges and this trial looming.

“Yes, we must,” he said. “We absolutely must.”

The case is controversial in that the ceremony is a spiritual practice, akin some say to a religious rite.

Back when the group rallied on the steps of the courthouse at Gladstone’s court appearance in 2016, Cheam Chief Ernie Crey equated the Federal Fisheries Act charge to an officer arresting a Catholic priest for giving communion.

“I’m trying to make people understand what the DFO did in charging Robert. This is how grievous what they did to us is.”

Gladstone agreed.

“That salmon is the body of Christ to us,” he said.

Issues over commercial and First Nations fishing on the Fraser River have endured for decades and battles have raged over allowable catches, who gets to fish when and where, not to mention dwindling returns. DFO does frequently gives licences for what are known as food social and ceremonial (FSC) fisheries on the river, and always allows some degree of sports fishing. So the refusal of the permit in spring 2015 permit was troubling and confusing, particularly because salmon were being fished by sport anglers nearby.

• READ MORE: Courthouse rally in Chilliwack against ceremonial fishery charge

At the 2016 rally, Grand Chief Ken Malloway told the assembled crowd that’s because there are 300,000 sports fishers in B.C.

“And they vote,” he said. “That’s why the government lets them do what they want.”

Also sharing words at the rally were Squiala Chief David Jimmie, First Nations Summit executive member Robert Phillips, and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip who is president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

Gladstone and others have said that it makes no sense for DFO to continue to press charges against aboriginal people for various reasons: because of Section 35 of the Constitution, which provides constitutional protection to aboriginal rights; the Cohen Commission, which looked into the decline of sockeye in the Fraser River; or Sparrow, the 1990 Supreme Court of Canada decision that found fishing is a protected right and protected under the constitution.

The charge Gladstone faces has been delayed for so long it is coming up against the limit set forth recently in the so-called Jordan decision, which outlines cases have to be dealt with from charge to completion in 18 months.

Gladstone’s lawyers agreed outside the courtroom that the “clock is ticking” on the Jordan principle, in addition to the fact that they think the prosecution is not in the public interest.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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