This injured N.L. fisherman is paying a heavy price for protesting for free enterprise

This injured N.L. fisherman is paying a heavy price for protesting for free enterprise
This injured N.L. fisherman is paying a heavy price for protesting for free enterprise

اخبار العرب-كندا 24: الثلاثاء 23 أبريل 2024 01:44 مساءً

It takes some effort and plenty of discomfort and anxiousness for Richard Martin to lift himself off his couch, settle in behind his walker, and make his way around his house.

He pushes the walker ahead of him, braces himself with his two arms, and uses his momentum to swing his right foot forward. His injured left leg barely touches the floor as it catches up. He repeats this motion about a dozen more times before he gets to the patio door in his kitchen.

He brushes the curtain back with his right hand to get a better look at his backyard.

"I'd like to be outside today cleaning up some mess after the spring thaw," Martin says, he voice reflecting his downcast mood after a month being cooped up in his house.

These are tough times — both physically and emotionally — for the 52-year-old fisherman from the tiny, remote Baie Verte Peninsula community of Shoe Cove, which is home to roughly 130 people and 17 inshore fishing enterprises.

Instead of working shoulder-to-shoulder with his lifelong friend and fishing partner, Merricks Foster, preparing their enterprise for another season on the water, Martin spends most of his days reading, scrolling social media, accepting phone calls and visits from family and friends, and replaying in his mind a violent morning in St. John's that turned his life upside down.

"There have been a few rough days, and there might be a few more yet," he says.

Locked in a standoff with police

It was just after 8 a.m. on Wednesday, March 20, and Martin was one of hundreds of frustrated seafood harvesters — many of whom had travelled long distances — who were blockading Confederation Building in St. John's, preventing public service workers and politicians from accessing the sprawling complex.

This screen shot from a CBC cellphone video captures the seconds before Richard Martin (wearing a black baseball hat with orange trim, with his face obscured by the bib of his hat) is taken to the ground during a protest in St. John's on the morning of March 20.

This screen shot from a CBC cellphone video captures the seconds before Richard Martin (wearing a black baseball hat with orange trim, with his face obscured by the bib of his hat) is taken to the ground during a protest in St. John's on the morning of March 20.

This screen shot from a CBC cellphone video captures the seconds before Richard Martin (wearing a black baseball hat with orange trim, with his face obscured by the bib of his hat) is taken to the ground during a protest in St. John's on the morning of March 20. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

With Port de Grave fisherman John Efford Jr. leading the charge, they were there fighting for what they were calling "free enterprise," or the right to have more say over how they catch, land and sell their seafood. They wanted political leaders to act on their concerns in order to loosen the tight grip they asserted seafood processing companies hold over the industry.

On this morning, they were locked in a tense standoff with dozens of officers from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

'Taking our rights away'

Protesters had separated into groups and blocked the various entrances to Confederation Building, but an access point at the rear of the building that was commonly used by politicians and government workers was quickly becoming the flash point.

The tension escalated as two RNC officers on horseback entered into the crowd, and then other officers on foot attempted to open a corridor in order to escort a group of government workers into the building. This touched off an angry clash as protesters and police tussled.

"They're taking our rights away from us," exclaimed one protestor, as he scuffled with three officers.

WATCH | Richard Martin describes the pain and terror of being on the ground in a protest of hundreds:

At one point in the pandemonium, police mistook a red-faced worker for a protestor, but he was quickly released after yelling "I'm a public servant, sir," and then he stumbled his way into the building.

For several minutes, the mass of people — a jumble of uniformed officers and protestors wearing camouflage-style clothing, thick winter jackets and reflective safety clothing — rocked back and forth like waves on a beach.

Media cameras in the crowd also captured images of some protesters slapping at the horses, which prompted an angry outburst from one of the mounted officers.

"You're getting charged! You're getting charged! Video. Get him. Make sure you ...," the officer shouted from his elevated position above the fray.

Richard Martin (right) and his fishing partner Merricks Foster are seen here on the waterfront in Shoe Cove, a small fishing community on the Baie Verte Peninsula. In the background is their fishing vessel, Shoe Cove Challenger.

Richard Martin (right) and his fishing partner Merricks Foster are seen here on the waterfront in Shoe Cove, a small fishing community on the Baie Verte Peninsula. In the background is their fishing vessel, Shoe Cove Challenger.

Richard Martin, right, and his fishing partner Merricks Foster are seen here on the waterfront in Shoe Cove, a small fishing community on the Baie Verte Peninsula. In the background is their fishing vessel, Shoe Cove Challenger. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

As the chorus of boos and expletive-laden replies intensified, a senior RNC officer could be seen signalling to the mounted officers, and the horses slowly exited the crowd, which drew a victorious applause and cheers from the protestors.

'I knew it was broke'

Richard Martin did not see any of this. He was on the ground. In shock and in pain.

A CBC cellphone camera captured the moment at 8:23 a.m. when Martin, wearing a thick black jacket and a black baseball hat, is slammed to the ground by a police officer during all the commotion. He's directly in the path being opened by the RNC in order to escort government workers into the building.

What the camera doesn't record is Martin falling hard onto a concrete curb, with the impact fracturing the upper portion of his thigh bone, or femur, in three places.

"All I can remember is being bolted, pushed and thrown to the curb," Martin recalls during an interview last week at his home, with his wife Rhonda and fishing partner Merricks looking on. "As soon as I hit the curb, I knew it was broke. The leg turned in."

Martin was immobilized on the ground as the pandemonium continued above him, and he feared being trampled by the crowd. But some fellow protesters came to his aid and guided him away from all the turbulence, to a nearby staircase.

He was upright, holding onto a rail and considering lighting a cigarette, but was overcome with pain.

'Can't bear the pain'

"I said, boys get me down, get me down, oh my Lord, get me down. I just can't bear the pain," he recalls.

Media cameras captured it all as Martin was helped onto a stretcher, placed inside an ambulance and taken to hospital.

In addition to all the pain, Martin says he was also overcome with a feeling of disappointment for "being charged from behind … not being warned, not being asked to move, not being informed of any actions of what they were about to take."

Martin says he "would have gladly walked out of the way" if such as order had been issued to the crowd because he did not want to risk his livelihood.

"I went there on the intention it was a peaceful protest, and I went there feeling safe," he says.

Martin doesn't feel he was breaking any laws, and does not regret his participation in the protest. His only regret is that he was unable to escape the situation before being pushed down.

Shoe Cove, Baie Verte Peninsula fisherman Richard Martin requires a walker to get around these days after suffering a broken hip during a protest in St. John's on March 20.

Shoe Cove, Baie Verte Peninsula fisherman Richard Martin requires a walker to get around these days after suffering a broken hip during a protest in St. John's on March 20.

Martin requires a walker to get around these days after suffering a broken hip during a protest in St. John's on March 20. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Martin says he's not a violent person, and has a reputation in his community for helping others, "like most people in any outport community."

Martin says he has not been contacted by the RNC, but acknowledged he is exploring his own legal options.

'My fishing season is gone'

Meanwhile, Martin underwent surgery later that night, with steel pins inserted into his hip, and is expected to make a full recovery — but not before most of the fishing season is over.

And he has another challenge: finding someone to take his place in the boat with Merricks in order to catch their crab and other species. That will mean giving up a large percentage of his income to another harvester, and possibly losing the lobster harvest altogether, he says.

"My fishing season is gone," he says.

"It's going to be a difficult summer not having Richard in the boat with me," adds Merricks, "but we'll make it through, I guess."

Martin estimates $10,000 in donations has poured in since his injury, an expression of support from the community that's helping him cope.

"I'm not willing to lie down yet," he says. "I got a lot of years to fish yet and I enjoy it and I love it."

The RNC, meanwhile, is not commenting on whether a review of its response to the protests is underway, or whether any charges against protesters are pending.

A police officer was also taken from the scene in an ambulance on March 20, but the RNC did answer any questions about the condition of the officer.

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