When Phillip Boudreau was murdered on June 1, 2013, by fishermen from Isle Madame, Nova Scotia, the crime generated a popular headline across the country and beyond: “Murder for Lobster!” A sensational story would always follow: a poacher caught raiding lobsters from other fishermen’s traps was shot at four times with a 30‑30 rifle, his small speedboat rammed and run over, his body gaffed in the water and dragged out to more than twelve fathoms, where it was allegedly tied to an anchor and sent to the bottom of the sea.
Boudreau’s body was never recovered, but there was enough evidence, including confessions, to bring charges against the crew of the Twin Maggies. The lobster boat’s former owner, James Landry, and its captain, Dwayne Samson, faced second-degree murder charges. A lesser charge of accessory after the fact was lodged against Craig Landry, a deckhand. The following year, in November 2014, reporters filled the provincial courtroom in nearby Port Hawkesbury for James Landry’s trial. But one person covering the proceedings really stood out.
Silver Donald Cameron, the award-winning journalist and author, wrote about the trial as a freelancer and later distilled the events surrounding the murder into a compelling book, Blood on the Water, completed shortly before his death last spring. Within its pages, he sets aside the sensationalism and instead relates a tale that’s part courtroom narrative, part community profile, part assessment of Canada’s justice system as experienced by marginalized peoples. “To an Acadian or a Mi’kmaw,” he writes, “English common law presents itself as rigid, insensitive, hostile, and unrealistic — an artificial set of rules that don’t resonate with the nature of reality, or with authentic lived experience, or even with basic principles of equity and fairness.” With Blood on the Water, Cameron tries to convey that authentic experience as lived on the small island, just off the coast of Cape Breton.
Cameron details what he calls “Her Majesty’s Story”: how the Crown prosecutors set out the facts and evidence against sixty-five-year-old James Landry. This is the testimony and evidence that was generally reported in contemporary news accounts. But that’s not enough, he argues, because far too little attention was paid to the extenuating circumstances that preceded the incident — the accumulated years of torment and harassment that carried little weight in the courtroom. And so Blood on the Water ranges far and wide, as Cameron ventures deep into the affected community and supplements the legal proceedings with conversations, interviews, anonymous voices, anecdotes, and Acadian history.
Cameron was born in Toronto, in 1937. He grew up in Vancouver and eventually earned his doctorate at the University of London, in 1967. Then, in search of a quiet place to write, he moved in the early 1970s to D’Escousse, a village on Isle Madame, which today has a population of approximately 4,300. While his given name — Donald Cameron — might have carried weight elsewhere, it brought nothing but confusion in and around Cape Breton. To distinguish him from a myriad of other Donald Camerons in the area, he was quickly rechristened Silver Donald Cameron, for his white hair. He married into an Acadian family and came to respect a place whose respect he also came to earn.
In fact, if a single phrase can describe the spirit of Blood on the Water, it is “deep respect.” Throughout Cameron’s telling, place is as important as the people who inhabit the story — whether it be Her Majesty’s Story or the story of James Landry, Phillip Boudreau, or anyone else participating in the drama.
Cameron scatters Blood on the Water with numerous Phillip‑isms and “island voices.” And as the book moves from a murder trial to Isle Madame and its residents, it remains a unified narrative. The accused are not simply villains who cause local Acadians to shake their heads in dismay. In Cameron’s telling, James Landry, Dwayne Samson, and Craig Landry are as much a part of their community as their neighbours, friends, and enemies. They are fishermen caught up in the tragic consequences of a terrible decision made one fateful day.
The Acadian community presents the court with a petition, containing more than 700 names, calling for Dwayne Samson to be released on bail. It has no standing, but for Cameron its existence underscores a broader sympathy and level of trust: those signatories know that Samson poses no danger to them. (Bail, when it does come, takes him far from Isle Madame until it’s time for his own trial.)
Not even the victim, Phillip Boudreau, is fully apart from the community, despite his minor reign of terror: “Phillip was an outlaw, but not an outcast.” Despite having bullied his way through life — threatening to burn down people’s houses, destroy their traps, steal their ATVs — Boudreau evades multiple attempts by the RCMP to arrest him, in large part because his neighbours will not betray one of their own. Yet he is no escape artist and spends nearly half his life incarcerated. (Some in the community wish he could simply be jailed during lobster season, which would greatly reduce the harm he could do.)
Cameron paints a picture of a man whom some consider a local Robin Hood — one who has been battered and abused since childhood — but also one accused of multiple rapes. And despite Boudreau’s relentless theft and destruction, the larger community mourns his death. “You hear it over and over,” Cameron writes. “It shouldn’t have happened. Nobody deserves to die that way. Those guys aren’t killers. We should have stopped it.” (There are exceptions, of course, and James Landry is among them, telling investigators, “I hope you don’t find him. Let the crabs eat him. They don’t have to put him in the cemetery. He don’t deserve a Mass.”)
Throughout Blood on the Water, Cameron quietly makes a case for the statement “Those guys aren’t killers.” Theft and cut traps had long plagued James Landry and other lobster fishermen. Boudreau would taunt them by moving two or three traps ahead of them, stealing their catch and waving as he cut the traps loose. In his fourteen-foot speedboat, Midnight Slider, he would make quick escapes, while those on lumbering vessels could hear him laughing. But his boat failed him one day, and the lives of several people and an entire community were changed.
What seems not to have changed in Isle Madame is the sense that Phillip Boudreau’s crime wave could have ended much earlier — and with much less violence — had law enforcement been more present on the island. “Whatever James and Dwayne get,” Cameron quotes one local as saying, “the last three RCMPs and the last three Fisheries officers should get the same, because it’s just as much their fault.”
Ultimately, James Landry was sentenced to fourteen years for manslaughter and Dwayne Samson to ten. Both men were paroled after three years. Underlying Silver Donald Cameron’s final book is an unsettling question: Was justice served?