Sask. review considers stricter rules for rural trespassing

The province is considering changes to its trespassing law that would make it illegal to enter any rural property without prior consent.

Government questionnaire asks if it should be offence to enter rural land without permission

The province is considering changes to the legislation surrounding trespassing on rural properties. (Matt Garand/CBC)

The province is considering changes to its trespassing law that would make it illegal to enter any rural property without prior consent.

In a questionnaire posted on its website, the province invites the public to comment on a number of proposed changes to trespassing legislation.

The review follows calls from farmers to crack down on rural crime and strengthen property rights in Saskatchewan.

Here's what the questionnaire asks: "Should Saskatchewan legislation provide that all access by members of the public to rural property requires the prior express permission of the rural land owner or occupier regardless of the activity and failure to secure that consent constitutes an offence?"

"I think the law should be the same for everyone, it shouldn't make any difference who you are.'- SARM president Ray Orb

It then asks how that permission would need to be sought or granted. The questionnaire opened on Aug. 10 but the Ministry of Justice said it will be advertised publicly within the next week. 

The existing law in Saskatchewan, which came into effect in 2009, makes it an offence to enter a property if the owner objects. One way for the owner to object is to post 'Do Not Trespass' signs.

If caught and found guilty, a trespasser can be made to pay up to $2,000.

Reeve calls for stronger law

Arlynn Kurtz, the reeve of the RM of Fertile Belt in Stockholm, Sask., first called for the trespassing law to be bolstered at the bear pit session of the annual Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities convention in March.

Arlynn Kurtz, Reeve of R. M. Fertile Belt Number 183 in Stockholm, Sask., asked the premier to strength the province's trespassing law. (Matt Howard/CBC Saskatchewan)

The proposal was met with applause from the crowd.

Kurtz said Friday he was pleased to see the law is under review.

"They just feel they can do whatever they want and for years we've been asking for it and now we finally have gotten some action," said Kurtz.

If the change proposed in the review was implemented, Kurtz said it would bring the legislation closer to what exists in Alberta.

That province makes it an offence to enter cultivated land without permission from the owner or occupier, or to stay there when they have been asked to leave.   

'It's in the back of everybody's minds'

Kurtz's call for changes to the legislation came a month after Gerald Stanley was acquitted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Colten Boushie.

Boushie, an Indigenous man, was on Stanley's rural property near Biggar, Sask. at the time of his death in 2016. 

Kurtz said the Stanley case was not the reason he asked the province to review the law, but "it's in the back of everybody's minds."

"What we stated was that if you are coming into a person's yard, you can come down the driveway, you go to the house or to someone in the yard, you express why you're there, what you need and anything beyond that is, you're trespassing and it's a chargeable offence," said Kurtz.

He said biosecurity for crops is also a concern, with farmers saying clubroot brought in on an outside vehicle can be devastating to a farm.

FSIN not in favour of change

Bobby Cameron, the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said his organization has not been consulted about the review.

Although the province said it had notified the FSIN, he said he was not aware of it and feels the review is a political move on the part of the government.
FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron does not believe the review is well-intentioned. (CBC)

"The voters are the SARM [Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities] and SUMA [Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association] delegates, we have a provincial election coming up in a couple of years and guess who they are going to cater to?" asked Cameron.

"They aren't going to cater to First Nations people, they're going to cater to those people who are voting, which are the non-First Nation people."

He said some Saskatchewan First Nations are preparing to enact bylaws that would consider conservation officers to be trespassers on that land.

SARM welcomes review

Justice Minister Don Morgan declined to be interviewed but issued a statement saying the FSIN was notified.

The Ministry of Justice website said the trespassing legislation will not affect First Nations' hunting and fishing rights.

SARM president Ray Orb said SARM's push for tighter laws and steeper penalties is not related to the Gerald Stanley case because his membership had concerns about the existing legislation when it was passed in 2009.

"I think the law should be the same for everyone, it shouldn't make any difference who you are," he said.
SARM president Ray Orb says he does not believe the push for tighter restrictions is related to the Gerald Stanley case. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

"Unfortunately, some people may take that as, the perception that First Nations people are singled out but that's not the case at all.

"It's geared at everyone that travels out in rural Saskatchewan."

Orb welcomed the review, saying any new legislation should have tougher penalties for trespassers.

He said it should also include provisions that allow people to seek help in an emergency, and that it could help address issues with fires being lit on rural property.

Orb believes the change will be an additional deterrent to anyone who might consider illegal hunting or vandalism on rural land.