Sask. premier, attorney general open to review of trespassing law

Premier Scott Moe and his cabinet attended a bear pit session with hundreds of leaders from rural Saskatchewan.

'Stand-your-ground' legislation not on the table

Premier Scott Moe and Attorney General Don Morgan say they are open to meeting with groups that want to talk about changing Saskatchewan's trespassing law to shift the onus away from property owners to those who enter properties. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Attorney General Don Morgan signalled Friday they are open to reviewing the province's trespassing law. 

"We wouldn't preclude a discussion around property rights," Moe told reporters after the bear pit session held as part of an annual convention of rural leaders and members of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.

Arlynn Kurtz, reeve of the RM of Fertile Belt No. 183 in Stockholm, Sask., asked about the province's Trespass to Property Act during the bear pit. Kurtz urged the province's leaders to strengthen the existing trespassing law — a request met with applause from the crowd. 

Arlynn Kurtz, reeve of RM Fertile Belt No. 183 in Stockholm, Sask., asked the premier to strengthen the province's trespassing law. (Matt Howard/CBC Saskatchewan)

'Strong trespassing law'

"What we need is a strong trespassing law. Private property is private property, so if you're coming to my place and you need help, you come down my driveway, you come up to my house, or if I'm in the yard, you come up to me and say, 'This is my issue,' " Kurtz said to reporters after the session. 

"Any movement beyond that area should be deemed as trespassing. You want to enter my field, you should be asking permission."

The law came into effect in 2009 and 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.

On stage, Moe underlined he was not committing to any changes but simply having a conversation, a sentiment reiterated by Morgan, who is also the province's Minister of Justice. 

Balance needed

Morgan said that as it currently stands, the onus seems to rest on the property's owner to install Do Not Trespass signs. 

"Right now, if you want to enter somebody's property, if it's not signed you're more or less expected that you can do that, the onus is on the property owner to say if you don't want hunters you have to sign the property," he said.

"Maybe it should be the other way around that if you want to hunt on somebody's property you go and ask the homeowner first, get written consent or some kind of consent."

Morgan added the government should look to trespassing rules in other jurisdictions. He expressed the need to strike a balance.

"I mean, you have to balance the right of other members of the public when they're out on somebody's property snowmobiling, hunting or out for a hike or whatever else, what's a reasonable expectation of them versus the expectation of a homeowner," he said.

Both Moe and Morgan were clear that their willingness to talk about trespassing rules would not veer into the introduction of "stand-your-ground" legislation. 

'We don't want any tragedies'

Kurtz said he was disappointed neither politician made a stronger commitment to opening up The Trespass to Property Act.

"The cost of posting a no trespassing sign on all his property is expensive, probably ineffective and makes just great target practice for people and as reeve of the municipality we spend thousands of dollars every year replacing signs that are shot up," he said. 

Kurtz said laying more trespassing charges and shifting the onus to visitors to obtaining consent from property owners would prevent some trespassing and even help prevent violence. 

"We need to have this dealt with sooner than later. We don't want any tragedies. Nobody wants any tragedies," he said. 

In his initial remarks to delegates, Moe acknowledged the "spirited" discussion around rural crime that has sprung up in light of the Gerald Stanley murder trial and verdict.

Questions around the number of police officers for rural areas and issues related to rural crimes was a notable theme during Friday's question and answer. 

Moe touts rural response team

On rural crime, Moe pointed to the province's work around establishing a rural response team and spoke of the need to address some of the social determinants of crime, like addictions. 

Morgan also spoke about exploring the creation of a regional policing model where there would a hubs where RCMP, municipal police forces and conservation officers would be interconnected to increase response times. 

Rural healthcare service was another topic delegates raised Friday. Moe said he wasn't necessarily surprised, but said he noted the issue was raised.