New marshals service in Sask. will have 70 officers by 2026 at cost of $20M annually

Minister of Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety Christine Tell explains the government's plan to create a provincial marshals service. The force will be operational in 2026. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Minister of Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety Christine Tell explains the government's plan to create a provincial marshals service. The force will be operational in 2026. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan government announced it will commit $20 million annually to a new marshals service after question period Thursday.

The Saskatchewan Marshals Service (SMS) will be operational in 2026 and have 70 officers, according to a news release.

Minister of Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety Christine Tell said the service is not meant to take over the duties of the RCMP or municipal forces but will support them while also conducting "proactive investigations."

The ministry said the SMS will respond to areas with high crime rates, arrest people with outstanding warrants, and investigate farming-related offences like theft and trespassing.

"We fund the RCMP to the tune of over $211 million a year. We still need basic policing in our province. Rural and otherwise and this is a step. It is a higher level of policing," Tell said at the announcement.

Tell said the SMS could do everything from dealing with drug trafficking to gangs, and rural crime.

"In rural Saskatchewan, we have issues with cattle theft, farm implement thefts, chemical thefts, copper wire, all of these things that are occurring within our rural communities and they are not being addressed as they should."

Tell called the RCMP a "very big organization" and said the SMS will help ensure "resources are available in those particular areas specific to whatever the level or type of crime is occurring."

Tell said her office will have "indirect oversight" as it does with other policing services in the province. The ministry said an independent advisory committee will be established.

"What we desire is to have them accountable under the Saskatchewan Police Act just like all other police, reporting to an advisory committee, not reporting directly to me."

Opposition concerned about oversight, cost

The opposition NDP said in a statement it acknowledges crime is a "big concern for many communities across Saskatchewan" but said other provinces have tried a provincial police force and found it to be "costly and ineffective."

"This $20 million would be better spent elsewhere," Nicole Sarauer, opposition corrections and policing critic, said in the statement.

"We have concerns about the independence of this force and any police force that would be answerable to the minister of corrections. It is important that policing bodies be independent from government interference and troubling that Scott Moe's Sask. Party government has failed in the past to take this seriously."

Sarauer said the opposition does not agree with having the SMS compete with other services for recruits.

She said with the SMS not fully operational until 2026, the provincial government is not addressing community safety "in the short or medium term."

Not community-style policing: Tell

Tell said the officers will be "more highly-trained" and experienced than basic police recruits and will not be focused on "community" policing, like municipal forces or the RCMP.

"They are not doing that basic community-type policing that we are all familiar with."

The minister said the SMS is still in the early stages but expects officers to be located in different parts of the province.

"I'm envisioning that to be in a number of locations throughout the province, bearing in mind that this team will be able to be mobile and that's a critical aspect of all of this."

Tell said communication between various policing units will be "critical."

In 2011, the Saskatchewan and federal government signed an agreement securing the RCMP as the provincial police force until 2032.

The deal means Saskatchewan covers 70 per cent of the costs with the federal government paying for the rest.

Tell said the government is "absolutely" committed to maintaining its contract with the RCMP, saying Mounties are "our provincial police."