Water fight: Sask. government accuses federal employees of trespassing for water tests

The Saskatchewan government is accusing federal government employees of trespassing when taking water samples in Saskatchewan. The allegation prompted a public letter from Saskatchewan's minister responsible for water security to his counterpart in Ottawa.

Province tweaked trespassing rules over weekend

Jeremy Cockrill, right, the minister responsible for Saskatchewan's Water Security Agency, posted a letter to his federal counterpart looking for 'clarification' and 'explanation' regarding federal workers on private land in the province. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

The Saskatchewan government is accusing federal government employees of trespassing when taking water samples in Saskatchewan. The allegation prompted a public letter from Saskatchewan's minister responsible for water security to his counterpart in Ottawa.

On Saturday, Saskatchewan's cabinet approved an order in council tweaking the province's trespassing laws, the Trespass to Property Act 2022, "to add a new section regarding the Act and state that 'person' includes the Crown in right of Canada."

On Sunday, Premier Scott Moe tweeted, "We are demanding an explanation from federal Minister Guilbeault on why his department is trespassing on private land without the owners' permission to take water samples from dugouts."

Saskatchewan's Minister Responsible for Water Security Jeremy Cockrill posted a letter to social media addressed to federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault.

Cockrill said producers in Pense, Mossbank and Pilot Butte contacted the province with "serious concerns" about federal government employees testing water sources on their land without permission.

According to Cockrill, the producers were told the water in their dugouts was being tested for nitrate and pesticide levels.

Cockrill said the employees were trespassing because the land the dugouts are on is private and they did not receive permission.

He said water quality management fell under provincial jurisdiction.

According to the Canada Water Act, inspectors are able to enter anywhere except a dwelling under certain conditions. 

The former president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association Levi Wood posted a photo on Twitter on Friday of two people outside a Government of Canada vehicle.

"Anyone else see a Government of Canada SUV taking water samples from your dugouts?  They said they were 'checking for pesticides,'" wrote Wood, who is from Pense.

CBC reached out to Wood for comment but has not received a response.

The order in council changing Saskatchewan's Trespass to Property Act 2022 to designate the Crown as a "person" under the act came the day after Wood's post.

Federal government responds

On Monday afternoon Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) provided a comment on the matter to CBC. A spokesperson said ECCC is "currently looking into the matter internally, and has become aware of an incident that occurred on Aug. 11, in Pense, Sask., where water scientists were taking samples very near a highway when a landowner approached the scientist to inform them that they were in fact on private land."

ECCC said it is also looking into the other two locations mentioned by the province, "though have found no record of them so far."

The ministry said it "routinely conducts water monitoring across the country and has done so for over 50 years across provinces and territories."

"There are strict protocols in place that scientists must follow to ensure everything is in compliance with laws in the areas," the statement said.

It said it has been collecting sample for Health Canada in 2022 and that "no nitrates or other nutrients are being sampled as part of these sampling activities."

"ECCC is reviewing sampling protocols to ensure they are consistent with area laws before doing any further sampling."

In his letter, Cockrill said the federal government was trespassing and did not have the right to test on "private lands."

Cockrill said the federal government was involved in "covert testing," had "created fear and disruption to our citizens" and was "displaying a disappointing act of bad faith."

"These actions call into question the federal government's motivations when it comes to water management in Canada," Cockrill wrote.

Cockril said the federal employees also violated Saskatchewan's trespassing laws.

"I am advising all federal employees should immediately cease and desist any further surreptitious entry on private lands."

Cockrill also called for testing activities to stop "where samples are inappropriately acquired."

He also said anyone illegally on land in the province could be fined $25,000 and up to six months in jail. 


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