Local rural municipalities welcomed news that the provincial government had formalized new trespassing laws approved during a special meeting in August following complaints about federal employees accessing private land without authorization.
The provincial government formalized the changes on Wednesday. Reeves in local Rural Municipalities are happy to see the law introduced. RM of Prince Albert Reeve Eric Schmalz said the idea is a good one.
“I think that given the crime rate currently in the rural areas there is a lot of anxiety around strange vehicles and people appearing on people's property,” Schmalz said. “It could create a tense situation and typically this is not an area where the federal government should be treading.
“This is provincial jurisdiction and the provincial government provides a Ministry to cover this area and it should be handled by the provincial government who can share the information with the federal government,” he added. “It's not a place of federal jurisdiction, from what I understand and my reading of the incidents that caused the concern that are being dealt with through this new law.”
RM of Buckland reeve Don Fyrk has similar thoughts.
“I think they (federal employees) should be treated like anybody else you know. If you want to go on somebody’s property get permission,” Fyrk said.
The Trespass to Property Act prohibits a person from entering premises except with the consent of the occupier or while acting under legal authority. Failure to comply with the rules of the Act will constitute an offence that could incur fines of up to $200,000.
Schmalz said that he thinks the province is more than capable of handling concerns.
“I want to make sure that our residents of rural Saskatchewan have the right to feel secure in their homes and not be alarmed by strange vehicles and individuals trespassing on their property without knowledge or informed consent or otherwise,” Schmalz said.
Fyrk said he had not heard any such complaints about federal employees in his RM, but was familiar with the act that caused the concern initially.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre said the legislation introduced Wednesday formalizes and reinforces the change to trespass regulations, made earlier in 2022. Those changes require federal employees to comply with the Act, which prohibits individuals from entering private land without the owner's consent.
"After agricultural producers in our province raised concerns about federal employees testing water on their private land without consent, Health Canada admitted that federal employees had, in fact, been testing for pesticides." Eyre said.
"Seeking the consent of landowners prior to access is simply best practice and common courtesy, and we see no reason for federal government employees to not meet this standard.”
NDP Justice Critic Nicole Sarauer said the legislation was redundant, and blasted the provincial government for not focusing on more important issues.
“What this bill appears to be doing is simply duplicating the regulation that was already passed this summer,” Sarauer said in a statement emailed to the Herald. “This bill won’t do anything new to help landowners except further divide people in Saskatchewan.
“There’s a million and one other issues facing Saskatchewan people right now, whether that’s the lack of healthcare capacity or the growing cost of living crisis. It’s obvious that the federal government should not be above the law and that the Sask. Party government could better focus its energy.”
Existing exemptions in the Act, such as those for emergency services personnel, utility providers and inspectors remain unchanged. The Government of Saskatchewan is already required to comply with the Act.
Members of the public can report suspected incidents of trespassing to their local RCMP or police services.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald