Surf clam controversy: Federal bid for reconciliation lands in court

One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's signature bids to promote reconciliation with Indigenous groups in Atlantic Canada is now facing a court challenge and allegations of conflict of interest.

The mounting complaints stem from a decision by Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc to award a potentially lucrative Arctic surf clam fishing licence to the Five Nations Clam Corp., based in New Brunswick.

On Feb. 21, LeBlanc said Five Nations had won a competition for the licence because the company met criteria that called for an Indigenous entity located in the Atlantic region with majority Canadian ownership.

LeBlanc also said the company included representatives from five First Nations from the region and Quebec, though he could name only one at the time.

The Miawpukek First Nation in Newfoundland and Labrador has since filed an application with the Federal Court seeking a judicial review of LeBlanc's decision, saying it was unreasonable because Five Nations had only one Indigenous group as a partner when the licence was awarded.

On Monday, published reports said the federal Conservatives have asked Canada's ethics watchdog to investigate the decision, saying concerns have been raised about possible connections between LeBlanc, Five Nations and its industry partner, Cape-Breton-based Premium Seafoods.

The president of Premium Seafoods, Edgar Samson, is the brother of Nova Scotia Liberal MP Darrell Samson.