The Saskatchewan government introduced legislation Tuesday to reverse the onus of securing permission to access private land for purposes like hunting and snowmobiling.
Under previous regulations, it was the land owner’s responsibility to fence, post land, or have “no trespassing” signs. New amendments aim to make it so someone will need permission from the landowner prior to accessing private rural land.
“There have been concerns raised over the years that the current legislation unfairly places the onus on rural landowners to post their land to legally deny access,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan said.
“This legislation shifts that responsibility to those wishing to access the land, by requiring them to obtain prior permission from the landowner or occupier.”
The province said this comes from responses to a survey held between Aug. 9 and Oct. 2., with 65 per cent of the 1,601 responses in favour of prior permission to access land.
The government statement adds this legislative change provides legal protection to landowners against property damage, risk of agricultural disease like club root, and limits liability that may arise from a trespasser’s presence.
Municipal relations critic Trent Wotherspoon said that if the province wanted to get serious about rural crime they would focus on the root causes and not legislation he described as impossible to enforce.
“What we think it should be about is a response to the crystal meth crisis for example across the province, meaningful measures around poverty and adequate policing across the province,” Wotherspoon said. “Those on farms are very isolated and call times are very long. Those are things that should be addressed.”
Wotherspoon also criticized the government for their lack of consultation with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and hunting/conservation group, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation. He added that holding a survey doesn’t cut it for consultation.
“They owe it to stakeholders, to people, to Indigenous peoples in this case to engage in earnest and face to face,” Wotherspoon said.
“It’s a disgrace that hasn’t occurred and it’s really damaging and really too bad that hunters have been shut out on this front because there’s a real possibility when you’re trying to address an area like this that you can find some compromises and bring forward common sense legislation that will work.”
Wotherspoon is a Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation member.
Morgan said there are some specifics that still need to be worked out, like what happens if an animal wounded by a hunter wanders onto private land.
On the FSIN front, Morgan said he has spoken with their leadership, and they said they view the proposed changes as a violation of Treaty hunting rights. Morgan said the provincial view is that hunting rights do not extend to private property.
“I hope that over time that they take a look at it and take a responsible approach to where they want to hunt. There’s lots of places where they can hunt without permission,” Morgan said.
Speaking to The Canadian Press, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said it’s unfortunate the province didn’t consult the FSIN and decided to base the proposed changes on the survey’s results.
He predicted the proposal, if passed, will create headaches because First Nation lands and roads are used by non-Indigenous people.
“You mean to tell me that every farmer and rancher and agriculturalist needs to call chief and council every single time to come on to lands?” Cameron said.
“That’s cumbersome. There’s a better way of doing business.”
Cameron added that a man found hunting on Kawacatoose First Nation land Tuesday was told he didn’t have permission to hunt and was escorted off the land.
“Had it been the other way around, I don’t know if a farmer would have been that kind or that patient,” Cameron said.
Discussion around these changes were pushed to the forefront following the annual Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities Convention (SARM) in March.
During the annual “bear pit” session many concerns about rural crime were raised. These proposed changes to The Trespass Act closely mirror points made by RM of Fertile Belt Reeve Arlynn Kurtz.
“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 on March 16.
Morgan expects the legislation to pass sometime next year, ideally before the fall hunting season.
This is the latest step the province has taken in a rural crime push that has been a major focus in recent years.
Other measures include the ability for small communities to establish/join regional police services and expanding highways and conservation officers scope to include responding to normal police calls if they are nearby.
With files from The Canadian Press’ Ryan McKenna