Sask. government moves to change trespassing rules, says public must ask for permission first

The Saskatchewan government tabled amendments to clarify that visitors must seek permission from a rural property owner before entering their land.

Government says change would better protect land from spread of agricultural disease and property damage

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)

The Saskatchewan government is flipping the onus from rural property owners onto members of the public when it comes to the rules around trespassing. 

Justice Minister Don Morgan tabled amendments on Tuesday to three pieces of legislation — The Trespass to Property Act, The Snowmobile Act and The Wildlife Act — to indicate members of the public need to seek permission from a rural property owner before entering their land. 

Morgan said existing legislation unfairly places the onus on rural land owners to post signs on their land to legally deny access. The new legislation would require those wishing to access land to get permission from the landowner.

"What we are looking for is giving the police and the landowner a tool so that if someone is on the land that ought not be on the land they can either be asked to leave or charged."

The government says the change will also better protect land from the spread of agricultural disease and property damage.

It also cites a government-run online survey that found the majority of respondents were in favour of switching the onus from property owners to the public. 

The government's review of its trespassing rules follows concerns raised from rural property owners on the issue, which is also related to rural crime. 

It was during a convention of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) back in March that Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Morgan signalled they were open to reviewing the laws. 

In a letter sent to the government, SARM offered it supports for reversing the onus when it comes to trespassing rules. It also called for stiffer fines for those who are caught trespassing. 

There have been critics to the government's focus on trespassing. For example, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice-Chief Heather Bear previously said the government had not meaningfully consulted with First Nations leadership. 

She also expressed concern over the impact the new rules could have treaty rights. She said the changes could promote vigilantism among property owners.  

"(FSIN) have taken the position that they don't believe the legislation applies to them. That they should have right to hunt or travel wherever they want," Morgan said.

He said the position of the province is that landowners have the right to determine who can be on their property.

"I hope over time (FSIN) take a look at it and they take a responsible approach to where they want to hunt," Morgan said. "There is lots of places where they can hunt without permission. And that they would exercise the same right of discretion and would want to seek permission from a landowner before they go on the landowner's property."

Morgan has said he was trying to meet with FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron and that any change to trespassing laws would respect First Nations hunting and fishing rights. 

Morgan has been firm that the government's attention on trespassing is not opening the door for so-called castle laws or "stand your ground" legislation. 

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca