The law would help protect rural residents who are increasingly worried about rising levels of rural lawbreaking.
Property owners in Saskatchewan may soon no longer have to expressly post a notice that forbids trespassing on their property.
If the proposed bill passes — which will amend The Trespass to Property Act, The Snowmobile Act, The Provincial Lands Regulations and The Wildlife Act, 1998 — it will switch the onus to people who want access to land and require them to first seek permission before entering onto private property. A fine of up to $2,000 is proposed for those who breach the law.
“The goal of this is to prevent people from walking around on other people’s land carrying firearms,” said justice minister Don Morgan. “If someone obtains consent before they go on the land, we’re far less likely to have an incident.”
The changes come after 22-year-old Colten Boushie was shot dead in 2016 on a farm owned by Gerald Stanley, who testified during his trial that he was only trying to scare Boushie and his friends from entering his property. Stanley was found not guilty of second-degree murder.
The law would help protect rural residents who are increasingly worried about rising levels of rural lawbreaking, said Morgan during second reading.
“The primary focus of the proposed legislation is to minimize and prevent misunderstandings over land use and to protect the legitimate interests of private rural landowners. In particular the intention is to promote the safety of both the landowner and the person seeking access, to reduce biosecurity risks and property damage, and to provide an additional tool to combat rural crime.”
After the provincial government solicited a survey for opinions about changes, 65 per cent responded they wanted changes to be implemented.
As well, farmers are increasingly concerned about strangers being on their land, affecting crops and livestock, said Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association chair Rick Toney to The Western Producer.
“Too often we have visitors, like snowmobilers and hunters, coming on to our pastures and fields without checking first. This can cause many problems like injured animals, damaged fences and leads to the spread of weeds or plant diseases.”
But an Indigenous member of the provincial assembly said the new rules would unfairly target his community.
“If I continue seeing that kind of politics coming out of the Saskatchewan Party, then you begin to question your role as an Indigenous person in this assembly,” said Buckley Belanger, who is Metis, and who represents Athabasca as its MLA.
The new rules might prevent Indigenous hunters from accessing land that they traditionally have used for hunting, he said.
“Serious questions have already been raised as to whether the new legislation violates Indigenous peoples’ constitutionally-protected treaty rights. Just as critically, if enacted the amendments will contribute to misunderstandings regarding the nature of Indigenous peoples’ treaty right to hunt and increase the potential for further conflict,” wrote Kate Gunn and Bruce McIvor at the First Peoples Law firm website.
And the proposed bill might even be unconstitutional, argued Gunn and McIvor, citing the case of R. v. Badger in which “the Court in Badger did not find that private ownership of land in itself constitutes a use which is incompatible with the right to hunt.”
But how can regular people know who owns what land, especially in rural and remote communities?
“We think there’s an opportunity to continue apply our Saskatchewan innovation when it comes to rural property access. We’re calling on our vibrant tech sector to bring ideas forward on how we can make it easier to ask for permission to access private land, and easier for property owners to respond to those requests,” said Premier Scott Moe during an address at the 2019 Convention of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.
The new law seems destined for further confrontation as the Saskatchewan government attempts to draw a fine line between property rights and traditional hunting rights.