Residents are somewhat divided about whether they support the provincial government introducing the Saskatchewan Marshals Service, a new survey suggests.
The Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan, in partnership with CBC News, surveyed the public last month about their view on policing and community safety in Saskatchewan. The survey included a question about the Marshals Service.
"We didn't have any data going into this, although, admittedly, I thought the support would be maybe a little bit lower than how the results actually fell out," said Jason Disano, the hub's director.
The Saskatchewan government announced the development of the Marshals Service through its throne speech last November.
The service, scheduled to be implemented in 2026, is supposed to be made up of about 70 officers that will "provide an additional law enforcement presence" across the province, conduct investigations and help RCMP and municipal police force operations, according to a government news release.
Marshals' duties will include responding to areas with high crime rates, arresting offenders with outstanding warrants and investigating farm-related crime, such as theft and trespassing, the release says.
The service is estimated to cost $20 million annually.
Christine Tell, the minister of corrections, policing and public safety, has previously told reporters that the service is still being developed, but that she envisions it as an experienced unit that will not be focused on community policing.
The Opposition NDP, police officials and Indigenous leaders have questioned the decision to create the Marshals Service.
Last month's survey received 401 responses from adults from Dec. 1, 2022, to Dec. 20, 2022.
The survey team, Disano said, ensured the sample size was diversified, consisting of people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, income levels and geographic locations in Saskatchewan, among other factors. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.89 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
About half of the respondents support introducing the Marshals Service to some extent, results show.
Half of respondents support Sask. Marshals Service
But more than one-third of respondents oppose the service, and 10 per cent are unsure, results show.
"There just seems to be a general level of tepid support for it," Disano said.
Part of that tepidness, he added, may be due to the Marshals Service being a fairly new concept that is still several years from becoming a reality.
The survey team analyzed various factors, such as age and political preferences, to find correlations between those factors and how a person responded to the survey questions.
Politics was the only determinant when it came to supporting or opposing the Marshals Service, Disano said.
About two in three people who are left-leaning opposed the service, survey results show, whereas two-thirds of centrists and about 58 per cent of people with right-leaning views supported it.
Left-leaning people more likely to oppose Sask. Marshals Service
Geographically, some areas may be more conservative or liberal than others, Disano noted, but in this case, where a person lived had no discernable bearing on their response to the question.
The Saskatchewan government does not want to create a provincial police force similar to the Ontario Provincial Police, for example, Premier Scott Moe told CBC News.
"Ultimately, the goal is for all of us to work together to ensure that we are making our communities much safer than maybe they have been in the past," Moe said Monday while on CBC Radio's Morning Edition.
The force, he said, would be based out of Prince Albert, Sask., so marshals could mobilize more quickly to a community where the local police service or RCMP detachment needs extra support.
The service would be held publicly accountable, Moe said, adding that the government is considering creating a board similar to municipal police commissions, which are made up of police officers, municipal leaders and members of the public.
Most Sask. residents feel safe, survey suggests
The vast majority of people feel safe, at some level, in their community, but many feel Saskatchewan has become less safe in the past year, the survey suggests.
About 86 per cent of respondents either very safe or somewhat safe from crime in their community, results show.
Most Sask. residents feel safe in their community
Nearly 11 per cent said they felt unsafe.
But more than half of respondents — about 52 per cent — feel Saskatchewan became less safe in the previous 12 months, results show.
More than one-third — 36.5 per cent — of respondents hadn't noticed a change, however.
This lines up with similar past surveys Disano has conducted, he said.
"It's more a measure of people's perceptions," he said.
Half of residents feel Sask. became less safe in past year
People will read news stories, see social media posts, or discuss things with friends and family, which could form their view of what's happening, versus what is actually happening, he said.
"Folks might have a very different response based on actual data provided by the municipal police forces, or RCMP, or Statistics Canada," Disano said.
People aged 35 or older were more likely to feel unsafe than those aged 18 to 34, survey results show.
About three in five respondents aged 18 to 34 felt there was no noticeable change in safety.
Few people of any age feel Sask. getting safer
Very few people, regardless of age, feel the province is getting safer, the survey suggests.
About half of Sask. residents 'somewhat satisfied' with policing
Most people were satisfied with policing in the province in the previous 12 months, the survey suggests.
About seven in 10 respondents were satisfied with policing, including about 48 per cent who answered 'somewhat satisfied' to that particular survey question, results show.
About 3 in 4 Sask. residents satisfied with policing
Less than a quarter of people were dissatisfied with police service to some extent last year, the survey suggests.
"People are generally satisfied with policing in the province, whether they're talking about a local municipal police force or the RCMP," Disano said.
The vast majority — about 80 per cent — of people 35 years old or older were satisfied with policing in Saskatchewan last year, results show.
People aged 18 to 34 were pretty much split, but slightly more were satisfied.
Most Sask. residents aged 35+ pleased with policing