About the upcoming meeting in Westport on fishing

March 10, 2008

Be it the problem of unlicensed drivers in California or illegal fishermen in Ontario, a troubling issue in North America is the emergence of an underclass of immigrants cut off from the benefits and obligations of citizenship. Decisions by bureaucrats and law-enforcement personnel have allowed the decay. Cheap Mexican labour means big profits, so officials wink at the underground society. So what do van-loads of night-time fishermen offer to Ontario legislators? An Asian voting block may very well control the balance of power in Ontario in the next election, and the current government seems unwilling to do anything about the illegal fishing issue except play it for political gain.

Let’s get back to fishing and how it affects the rule of law.

1. The foundation of Ontario sport-fishing is the absolute requirement that all fishermen be licensed and informed of the game regulations, and that they willingly adhere to these regulations and expect others to adhere to them also.

Ontario society cannot afford digressions from this code. If the law is not enforced, then pressure falls on others to fill the gap. This leads to breakdowns in the social order which no group or individual wants.

2. If we are to hold all fishermen to a high standard, the Ministry of Natural Resources must improve its communications with its clients. The annual fishing regulations booklet is difficult for a reader without a strong background in English. What’s more, the website version of the regulations is unusable. A forward-looking ministry would reach out to the Asian community with a website and information packages which met the needs of its changing clientele.

3. The quality of game and fisheries law enforcement in Ontario has deteriorated because of budget constraints and mismanagement, and this trend must be reversed.

The Auditor-General of Ontario’s Annual Report, 2007, p. 153:

The majority of conservation officers work eight-hour shifts that normally conclude before six in the evening, and there are generally few overnight shifts. According to ministry staff, most public complaints during the night do not need immediate attention, even though almost 20% of the calls to the Ministry’s TIPS reporting hotline occur during overnight hours. We were informed that enforcement staff cannot respond to complaints in off hours without supervisory approval because the costs of overtime must be balanced with the severity of the complaint and concerns about staff safety. We were also informed that extensive off-hours work could diminish the staff’s ability to carry out regular day patrols. However, failure to respond to complaints on a timely basis may increase the risk of illegal activity going undetected.

On p. 151:

The Ministry allocates operational support funding to the Enforcement Branch that averages approximately $9,000 per conservation officer to carry out field-enforcement activities. From our review of the enforcement activities in the districts that we visited, and discussions with enforcement supervisors and officers, we noted the following:

– For the four units reviewed, the funds budgeted were insufficient to carry out the planned enforcement activities…. As a result, conservation officer patrol hours had been reduced from planned levels by between 15% and 60%…. If there was a shortfall in funding, district offices were not allowed to reallocate funds from other activities to the enforcement units, as was the case in prior years.

-For the enforcement units reviewed, conservation officers were unable to carry out additional harvest monitoring because of resource constraints. In this regard they were restricted to spending between $75 and $125 a week for operating costs such as meals, gas, vehicle repairs and maintenance, and travel. At this level of funding, we noted that conservation officers carried out regular patrols an average of one or two days a week during the 2006/7 fiscal year, compared to an average three or four days a week the previous fiscal year. In the case of one unit, we noted that regular patrols were suspended by mid-November 2006 for lack of funds, even though the deer hunting season still had another 10 days to run.

4. We must do all we can to maintain the social contract among citizens of Ontario to respect and conserve our fisheries by obeying the law.

The government must tread very carefully here. The Toronto Asian vote may be at stake, but winking at violations creates an underclass of outlaws.

Canadian history is full of ignoble actions by legislators toward people of Asian origin whom they courted for their numbers, but considered beneath the law. The railway was pushed through the Rockies by Chinese laborers, but the railway pioneers wanted only their labour, with no interest in their lives as citizens of the growing nation.   Sir John A. Macdonald spoke in Parliament about “these magnificent human machines” which they could rent to do the hardest labour in the Rockies.  Little wonder that several hundred of these “machines” were left to die of starvation and exposure in an isolated camp one winter.

In 1942 Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry lost their homes and livelihoods to legislators and few spoke out for them. In the current case the politicians seem to want votes, but again I fear they have little interest in the lives and needs of individual Asian-Canadians.

I suggest that we must hold all fishermen to the same high standard of behaviour, without exception, regardless of their language or place of birth. Effective law enforcement is the most viable way to ensure that society’s norms are adhered to, and we must make sure that no one in Ontario is below or above the law.

In my book if he’s a good fisherman, he’s welcome.


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