Bill to overhaul Sask. legislature security poised to pass

·7 min read
Former Saskatchewan sergeant-at-arms Terry Quinn resigned in February, months after the government introduced Bill 70 which changes the sergeant's responsibilities.  (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Former Saskatchewan sergeant-at-arms Terry Quinn resigned in February, months after the government introduced Bill 70 which changes the sergeant's responsibilities. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Saskatchewan government will soon pass Bill 70, which will overhaul security in and around the legislative building.

The current security structure in which the sergeant-at-arms oversees security and is appointed by and answerable to the Speaker has been in place for more than 30 years.

The opposition proposed an amendment to the bill, which would continue to have the Speaker appoint the head of security and for that person to report to the Speaker.

It has raised concerns that the new security team would be "partisan."

"We want the security in this building and the people of Saskatchewan want the security of this building to remain as it has been for over 30 years, which is independent of government interference," said Opposition justice critic Nicole Sarauer.

Christine Tell, minister of corrections, policing, and public safety, said Monday the government is not interested in changing the bill.

Bill 70 will see a security director appointed by the government, leaving the sergeant in charge of security and safety only inside the assembly. The director will hire at least 10 officers who will be uniformed and armed.

The current structure has the sergeant in charge of a team of four to five plainclothes security officers and responsible for safety in and around the building.

"The purpose of Bill 70 is to enhance the security of the legislative building and surrounding area," Tell said during committee on Monday night.

She said any claims that the security service would be partisan are "false" and "misinformation."

Tell said the officers would fall under her ministry as highway patrol and corrections officers do.

Sergeant-at-arms resigned in February

Tell and Premier Scott Moe have defended the bill since it was introduced in the fall. Tell has said repeatedly "the world has changed" and so must the security in the building.

Both have insisted the bill is not about clamping down on protests.

"I'm a very strong proponent of safe, legal protest that people have a right to do it. People do not have a right without accountability to commit any criminal offences," Tell said Monday.

Tell said in December that the current security team, led at that time by Terry Quinn, was not proactive in responding to threats, but she did not provide examples.

Quinn stepped down in February and was replaced by Sean Darling.

"What we have talked about is a security unit that will actually be proactive receiving information but not waiting until something happens and then light their hair on fire," Tell told reporters Monday. "Don't want to do that. The time for making plans is before something happens and I don't want to wait.

"I want to be able to say that we've done as much as we possibly can. If something were to happen, government is responsible, not the NDP."

She mentioned the protest which occurred on the steps of the legislature before the throne speech on Oct. 27.

A large crowd prompted security to cancel the outdoor ceremonies "for the safety of all involved," according to government House Leader Jeremy Harrison.

Tell said Monday the event did not prompt the bill, which was introduced less than one month later.

"It isn't about one thing," Tell said. "All of us were privy to what occurred out here on throne speech day. That is one thing in a bigger piece."

Opposition questions need for new force

Sarauer says the opposition has not seen evidence of the sergeant and his team failing to do their jobs.

"What on earth would this new security force be able to do that the sergeant-at-arms and his team didn't do?" Sarauer said.

She says the opposition welcomes a conversation about security, but thinks the process is flawed as it was not discussed at the all-party Board of Internal Economy.

"We have never been opposed or blocked any attempts to enhance security in this building," Sarauer said. "And if the desire was to have more members of a security force here in the building, we would've been happy to work at the Board of Internal Economy table to make sure that the money was there to have that occur."

Dayne Patterson/CBC
Dayne Patterson/CBC

Sarauer expressed concerns the government is using the bill to control security in and around the building.

"This is the people's building. It has always been the people's building. It needs to always continue to be the people's building," Sarauer said.

"I have brought my children into this building. If there are security issues that they are not sharing and they haven't been sharing with us — to be clear, that's a serious problem."

In December, Patrick Shaw, who spent 20 years as the sergeant-at-arms in Saskatchewan, said the changes were not needed.

"I personally don't see what is to be gained by changing it," Shaw told Stefani Langenegger, the host of CBC's The Morning Edition. "I think it's very, very important that there's an independent body there that serves all parties in the non-partisan way."

Government spending $1.9M toward new security team

Tell said Monday that the five community safety officers that patrol Wascana Centre will remain.

In April, those officers were moved from the Provincial Capital Commission to the newly created Provincial Protective Services under the umbrella of the Ministry of Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety.

The government has budgeted more than $1.9 million for the new security team:

  • $684,000 in salaries of 11 members.

  • $843,000 in operating funding.

  • $440,000 for accommodations and possible tenant improvements.

Tell says the new security force will be composed of provincial government employees and not a private security company. She was not sure when the new team would operational but offered that it could be in place "late fall" of 2022.

Tell did not provide clarity on how the new security team will affect commissionaires who work in the building.

Bill 70 debated in committee

The bill was debated in committee on Monday night and again on Tuesday afternoon, reaching well into the evening.

On Tuesday, Sarauer asked for the cost of legislative security at the moment as it is under the Speaker's jurisdiction.

"Once this legislation passes that will be one of the first priorities that we look at," said Dale Larsen, deputy minister of corrections, policing, and public safety.

Sarauer asked who the government consulted before the bill was introduced. Tell said there was no consultation.

Tell pointed to "increased threats," "heightened political rhetoric" and threats against government officials, both elected and unelected.

Bryan Eneas/CBC
Bryan Eneas/CBC

Independent MLA Nadine Wilson is wary of the plan.

"We don't need to turn this building into a fortress," Wilson said. "We don't need bodyguards, we need unity."

If mistakes are made in hiring, Larsen said, those individuals would be held accountable under the public complaints commission.

Tell said the staff will be "well-trained" and said the security service will be "much more comprehensive" than the existing one.

Question period debate focuses on Bill 70

On Wednesday, Sarauer spent almost the entire question period asking Tell about the bill.

Sarauer said Tell told committee the bill was borne out of a request by cabinet last fall.

Tell would not say who raised the idea or when precisely it was brought forward.

Sarauer also said the government purposefully "ran out the clock" in committee by having government members ask questions until the 20-hour debate limit was reached.

Harrison said Sarauer violated house rules by sharing her proposed amendment with the media before it was presented.

Sarauer said following question period the amendment was related to a specific clause in the bill and could not be put forward because the government exhausted the time.

She said it can still be brought forward if government members want.

The bill is expected to be voted on next Wednesday on the second last day of the sitting.

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