Minister says Sask. legislative building security threats have not been addressed effectively, plans overhaul

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Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell said the legislative building needs a new security structure, which would include replacing most of the responsibilities of the sergeant-at-arms. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell said the legislative building needs a new security structure, which would include replacing most of the responsibilities of the sergeant-at-arms. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Saskatchewan's minister of public safety is defending a bill that would scrap the security structure in and around the province's legislative building, saying the current team, led by the sergeant-at-arms, is not addressing concerns effectively.

Christine Tell introduced Bill 70 on Tuesday, which would see a director of legislative security appointed by the corrections minister.

Since 1984, a security team has been overseen by the sergeant-at-arms, who reports to the Speaker and operates independently of the political parties.

The proposed bill would remove most of the sergeant's responsibilities, instead tasking a new security head and new team. The sergeant-at-arms would continue to have responsibility for security within the legislative chamber, but not the rest of the building or its grounds.

On Wednesday, Tell was asked to cite specific cases or incidents that have precipitated the proposed changes to security, but she declined to give details.

The government has had "a number of incidents reported to us," she said. "Some of them we have witnessed and some of them we've been involved in, and some we've received from staff and the public."

Those incidents were not handled by the current security staff to the government's liking, Tell said.

"We haven't been able to get them addressed effectively and we'd rather be proactive in our security stance than reacting when something bad happens."

The sergeant and his staff "do what they know or think or believe to be the best thing to do," she said.

The proposed changes are not an effort to reduce security costs, said Tell.

The Opposition NDP's justice critic says if the government has security concerns, they should be discussed at a meeting of the Board of Internal Economy, a non-partisan committee.

"When the minister says 'proactive' it worries me the minister is saying the government believes there should have been dispersing of protests or arrests that haven't been made," Nicole Sarauer said Wednesday.

"I have full confidence and trust in the work of the Regina Police Service and the sergeant-at-arms who understand the rules around lawful protest and our charter. They make sure these protests are peaceful."

Tell, Opposition debate issue in house

During question period Wednesday, sergeant-at-arms Terry Quinn listened from his seat on the floor to a debate about the future of his staff and his duties.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili asked Premier Scott Moe if he thought building security should be "non-partisan and independent."

Tell, who answered all Opposition questions on the issue, said people are getting increasingly "loud and aggressive" in their protests. Security structure needs to be updated because "the world has changed," she said.

Sarauer called for the bill to be pulled and said if the sergeant-at-arms needs more resources, that should be discussed during Board of Internal Economy meetings.

"There is no place for a partisan security force," she said, causing government members to shout back in disagreement.

Michael Bell/The Canadian Press
Michael Bell/The Canadian Press

Tell said other positions within government under her ministry are appointed, challenging the Opposition to call those partisan.

She also said the Saskatchewan Party government had raised the security issue with the NDP.

Opposition House leader Vicki Mowat said she was first "made aware of the desire for government to make changes to the current security arrangement" on Nov. 15. Notice was given that a bill would be introduced on Nov. 18, and the NDP saw the written bill for the first time on Tuesday, she said.

Mowat said the process would normally involve more back-and-forth between House leaders and caucuses, and the Opposition made a formal request through the Speaker to have the Board of Internal Economy meet.

The government seems to be attempting to "ram through this legislation," she said.

Tell said the bill will not be passed until the spring of 2022.

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