5 takes on tougher rural trespassing laws in Saskatchewan

The issue of rural trespassing was thrust back into the spotlight last week in Saskatchewan. CBC Saskatchewan reached out to several concerned parties for their take on the issue.

Government survey put issue in the spotlight last week

Philip Brass snapped a picture of this sign (censored here) near Arcola, Sask. (Supplied by Philip Brass)

The issue of rural trespassing was thrust back into the spotlight last week in Saskatchewan.

The provincial government released results of a survey it said showed the majority of Saskatchewan people were in favour of a law requiring that someone going onto rural land request advance permission from the landowner.

The study was criticized as unscientific. The government conceded the point but called the survey results a "snapshot of public opinion."

CBC Saskatchewan reached out to several concerned parties for their take on the issue. Five of those takes are here. They have been edited for length and clarity.

Ray Orb

Ray Orb is the President of The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM).

Rural Saskatchewan has a beauty and quiet unlike the hustle and bustle of a city. And while we appreciate small community living, it doesn't come without its challenges. 

The rural crime rate in Saskatchewan was 36 per cent higher than the province's urban crime rate last year (according to a report by Stats Canada). Rural landowners are not afforded the same protections as homeowners in a city. 

SARM has long advocated that legislation require individuals to receive express permission from a landowner before they access private land. By ensuring that private property is deemed as "no trespassing" until permission is obtained from the landowner and/or tenant, we are affording rural landowners the same right as urban landowners. 

Trespassing presents a threat not only to feelings of personal safety, but also to the livelihood of farmers and ranchers.  Livestock can be lost to hunting accidents and gates accidentally left open, and noxious weeds, invasive species, and soil-borne diseases like clubroot present a biosecurity threat to Saskatchewan's agricultural economy. 

Tightening rural trespass laws will allow rural landowners and farmers precautions to protect their livelihood while increasing the sense of security and safety for their families. 

Ken Wilson

Ken Wilson is a University of Regina professor who does a lot of long distance cross country trekking through private land, always with permission. 

I think the greatest potential effect of tightening rural trespassing laws will be to further separate people — both people who live in towns and cities but also others — from the land.

Birders, for instance, won't be able to hop over a fence into a pasture to get a closer look at a bird that might be an eastern bluebird or a mountain bluebird. First Nations people will be prevented from gathering medicinal plants.

Yes, we should be asking for permission from landowners, but who carries around big RM maps and phonebooks in their backpacks? In the end, people who want to do malicious damage will not be stopped by a law that is going to be unenforceable, and those of us whose presence on the land might act as a deterrent to those people will not be there.

Philip Brass

Philip Brass is a member of the Peepeekisis Cree Nation and an avid hunter. 

In regards to the Treaty and inherent rights of Indigenous peoples, this conversation is so far removed from where we need to be at the moment.

Indigenous nations, our rights to the lands and water throughout our territories, are not to be determined by popular opinion based on ignorance of the treaty relationship and settlers own ignorance in upholding their responsibilities in upholding the honour of the Crown.

The Indigenous nations here in Treaty 4 and 6 weren't dispossessed of our land by the signing of our nation-to-nation treaties. It was the Indian Act that mandated the paramilitary force (the RCMP) to round up our peoples and incarcerate us on reserves. That hostility has never been rectified to this day.

So when we are seeing the bolstering of these land owners, the privileged few throughout Saskatchewan, to have the right to decide when Indigenous rights apply and don't apply, that to me is such a gross display of settler privilege.

I hunt and I do get permission. The reality of hunting is that animals move quickly from one piece of land to the next. Realistically, you would have to go to great lengths in trying to contact numerous land owners in order to hunt in an area. 

But there is something called white privilege. If you've got a white face and you drive into a farmer's yard, yes, you are likely to get permission. If you are a truck full of young First Nations people, there's an inherent risk that we know exists in rural Saskatchewan. It's not a reality for Indigenous people to assume they are going to get permission. 

There are differing opinions on whether Saskatchewan should institute new rural trespassing laws or whether they would even be effective. (James R. Page, Val Marie)

Michael Gertler

Michael Gertler teaches rural sociology at the University of Saskatchewan. 

While advocated changes to trespass legislation are unlikely to have positive impacts on rural crime (as acknowledged by Minister Don Morgan), they will negatively impact the image and ethos of rural Saskatchewan.

Prior permission arrangements may be cumbersome and even unworkable, and they will raise barriers to enjoyment of rural spaces by anyone aside from the immediate owner or leaseholder. They will contribute to further development of rural-urban divides. Whether or not this is the intent, this looks like erecting barriers, restricting the rights of citizens other than farmers and ranchers, and discouraging access even for compatible activities.

The first step should be public education based on review of effective practices (see Ken Ilgunas, "This is Your Country. Let's Walk It." New York Times, April 23, 2016). There are win-win-win options harmonious with improving security, protection of land, advancing the multi-functionality of agricultural land, and promoting community economic development.

Glenn Wright

Glenn Wright is Farmer near Delisle, Sask. He previously ran for the Saskatchewan NDP.

What I struggle with is the hypocrisy of the proposed trespass laws compared to the proposed gun legislation. 

I have farmed for over 10 years in rural Sask. and have posted some land as no trespassing and had limited success.  Usually I still find people quadding/snowmobiling or driving over land that was posted with no trespassing signs. 

Many rural gun owners have used the argument that increasing rules is not going to deter criminals. I think the same argument applies with respect to changing the trespass laws.

Why not tackle the rural crime issue by focusing on the social determinants of health? We should be talking about income inequality, the collapse of social programs, and addictions that lead people to crime. 

Rural crime is a legitimate issue, but changing the default rule is not going to do anything to deter those in desperate situations. I think this is another example of misdirected attention based on dog-whistle divisive politics. 

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