Montreal restaurants vow to boycott Nova Scotia lobster over dispute with Mi'kmaq
MONTREAL -- Some of Montreal's most well-known restaurants are boycotting lobsters and other seafood from Nova Scotia's commercial fisheries over acts of violence towards Indigenous communities in the area.
“Like a lot of people, I saw what was going on in Nova Scotia. I've cooked and bought a lot of lobster, it's part of my cooking career for a long time,” said Chuck Hughes, the celebrity chef who owns Garde Manger and Le Bremner. “Like everybody, we saw there's intimidation, there's violence. I'm not a fisherman and I'm not there in Nova Scotia, I don't know all the facts but I do know intimidation and violence and racism when I see it.”
Over the past month, commercial fishermen have engaged in confrontations with fishers from the Mi'kmaq tribe. As the conflict escalated, Mi'kmaq-owned lobster traps were ransacked and a a lobster pound was destroyed by fire.
Commercial fishers have complained that the Mi'kmaq-owned traps were illegal due to being placed out of season. The federal government has affirmed that the Mi'kmaq have a constitutionally protected right to fish in pursuit of a moderate living.
The Montreal boycott was initiated by Kahnawake resident Karennenhawi Goodleaf.
“I've seen all these articles on Facebook and the media, the racism that was going on in Nova Scotia against my people,” she said. “While I was watching the whole situation I was thinking to myself 'I wish there's something I can do,' but there's a pandemic and I'm home with a little baby. But I saw an article saying some of the restaurants in Nova Scotia were starting to boycott commercial fisheries over there.”
Goodleaf began reaching out to restaurants directly, asking them if they would consider their own boycotts.
“A lot of people from my community have messaged me saying they were also going to message restaurants to inform them of what's going on in Nova Scotia and maybe have them join the boycott of these commercial fisheries,” she said. “I contacted a lot of restaurants and a lot of them don't actually know where they get their seafood from.”
While Montreal restaurants are still not able to seat diners due to COVID-19 red zone restrictions, many are still offering takeout options.
Along with Hughes, Goodleaf said the owners of Joe Beef have also volunteered to stop buying and serving Nova Scotia lobster at their restaurants.
Ari Schor, owner of Verdun's Restaurant Beba, said he decided to sign on as a moral stance.
“As a chef and owner of a restaurant, I always seek out really good products and those products come from people,” he said. “Whoever supplied products to me, I like to build a relationship with them and I have no interest building a relationship with a group of people that commit or turn a blind eye to these acts of racism. Not only am I going to stop buying lobster from Nova Scotia but all seafood from Nova Scotia.”
Hughes, who recently starred in an APTN television show called Chuck and the First Peoples' Kitchen, which saw him touring Indigenous communities around Canada to learn about their cuisine and cultures, said he's not concerned about replacing the lobster he would normally get from Nova Scotia.
“The reason I took the lobster off is really more to bring awareness,” he said. “This is something I definitely directly use, so that's why I felt this is a good way to get the conversation going, to denounce racism and the violence that's happened in the past week. I think everyone can see it's wrong.”
Goodleaf said the response from the local restaurants has been inspiring.
“If you're a restaurant business owner and you take a stand against this racism, it shows integrity,” she said. “It reflects the values your restaurant has by choosing not to buy lobster or fish off people that are being violently racist.”