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DFO says changes at St. John’s facility a result of disconcerting spring protests

Excavation work was carried out Wednesday on the hill at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans facility at White Hills in St. John’s where Twillingate fisherman Richard Gillett held an 11-day hunger strike in April.
Excavation work was carried out Wednesday on the hill at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans facility at White Hills in St. John’s where Twillingate fisherman Richard Gillett held an 11-day hunger strike in April. - Joe Gibbons

Hunger strike site to be adorned with plants, stonework

If Richard Gillett happens in the future to revisit the hill where he camped out for an 11-day hunger strike last spring near the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) building in St. John’s, he may not recognize it.

And he probably wouldn’t find a spot suitable for a tent.

The hill, currently being excavated, is expected to be landscaped with a variety of plants, bushes and stonework.

Changing the look of the hill — which is at the start of the road leading to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre — and a new security checkpoint further down the road and closer to the building, are part of new security and safety protocols being implemented at the location.

Those measures are a direct result of Gillett’s protest, which began on April 13, and an earlier protest on April 7 when a group of protesting fishermen kicked in a window at the building’s main entrance and stormed inside the building.

Jan Woodford, regional director of communications with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Region, confirmed Thursday a new security review was conducted as a result of the protests.

“Yes, this review was carried out in response to an incident at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre during which protesters forcibly gained access to the building,” Woodford said.

“It is important to note that all federal departments are responsible for safeguarding employees, assets and service delivery, and our review is very much in keeping with government policy on safety and security.”

Gillett is a high-profile Twillingate fisherman and a former star of the Discovery Channel’s “Cold Water Cowboys.” Supporters at the site during his hunger strike sometimes impeded traffic entering and exiting the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre.

The April 7 protest caused a lot of concern because of the damage to the property and the forcible entry into the building, even though the protesters became peaceful once inside and left after a meeting with officials.

The new measures mean visitors will have to check in with commissionaires at the outside security office.

“The Government of Canada generally contracts with the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires to provide security for federally owned or operated buildings and facilities across Canada,” Woodford said.

“We currently do have commissionaires staffing both our main gate and main entrance to the building. It is, again, important to note that this is in keeping with the federal directive on departmental security management, which requires that access to government assets and facilities be limited to authorized individuals and people who have an express need for access. While we manage both our external and internal environments to reduce the risk of workplace violence and protect against unauthorized access, people requiring access to the building — or environs, such as hikers, dog walkers and recreational mountain bikers — are not unduly inconvenienced.”

With snow crab and shrimp quotas declining, and northern cod stocks still years away from being able to support a significant commercial fishery, the fishing industry looks dismal. And fishermen’s frustration with some of DFO’s policies and decisions are expected to spark future protests if resolutions are not found.

Other protests of note last April included one at the offices of FFAW-Unifor on Hamilton Avenue in St. John’s where fishermen initially tied a rope to the doors of the FFAW-Unifor building in an apparent plot to pull the locked doors open to gain access to the building. Cooler heads prevailed and the ropes were removed from the door before any damage was done.

Another protest took place in Port au Choix, where angry fishermen set fire to some of their fishing gear in front of the DFO offices in that Northern Peninsula community to draw attention to their grievances. Despite the burning of gear, the protest remained peaceful as fishermen demanded answers to a number of outstanding issues that were affecting the fishery.

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