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New rural trespassing law passes in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan’s legislation to overhaul rural trespassing rules received its third and final reading in the legislature Wednesday. File / Global News

Saskatchewan’s legislation to overhaul rural trespassing rules received its third and final reading in the legislature Wednesday. If it receives royal assent when the house adjourns May 16, it will become law.

The legislation makes it so people who are looking to access privately owned rural land will first have to get permission from the landowner. Previously, it was the responsibility of rural landowners to put up fences, posts, or have “no trespassing” signs on their land.

READ MORE: Gov’t seeks public input on trespassing in rural Saskatchewan

While the legislation has passed, it will not come into force until the regulations are finalized alongside an app to help connect landowners with hunters, snowmobilers, hikers and others that may want to access the land.

“We’re going to wait and see how that plays itself out and see what other things are required in the legislation and it will probably be sometime before it becomes operational, but I think people have an expectation it will come in the reasonably near future,” Justice Minister Don Morgan explained.

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WATCH BELOW: Coverage of changes to Saskatchewan’s trespassing law

The Opposition NDP’s Trent Wotherspoon said if this legislation relies on the app, that should have been completed first before this was “rammed through.”

“There’s many questions about how that will work. We don’t even have good internet access in many parts of the province, but build that app out. Test it, prove it works. I know hunters and fishers are open to being part of that work,” Wotherspoon said.

Innovation Saskatchewan has already launched the competition for app developers. The winning submission will receive a $10,000 and 16 week-residency to refine the software.

READ MORE: Sask. innovators challenged to connect land-users with property owners

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This legislation has been well received by groups like the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), but it has not been without controversy.

Indigenous groups, like the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), said the legislation would infringe on treaty rights to hunt and have discussed a legal challenge.

Morgan said this legislation would not cross treaty hunting rights because those only apply to private land, not Crown land. Indigenous hunters and fishers would still be able to access non-fenced private land that is not obviously used for agriculture or other practices, according to Morgan.

READ MORE: FSIN backs out of agreement with Saskatchewan RCMP after trespassing allegations

The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation has also raised concern on how this legislation may affect hunting practices. They said more rural land is owned by numbered companies and absentee owners, making it increasingly difficult to track down a landowner for the purposes of tracking animals.

On this issue, Morgan said it is common practice for hunters to get prior permission already so these new rules should not change too much. However, the minister admitted there is no solution for exactly what to do if a wounded animal wanders onto land a hunter does not have permission to access.

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“Common sense would be you go there to see if the animal needs to be dispatched, or whether you need to bring it out. Then the issue is do you need to bring a vehicle or whatever. So I think the sense would probably be you should seek consent from that owner before you go on,” Morgan said.

READ MORE: Sask. organization concerned trespassing change will impact wildlife population controls

The minister expects this legislation will minimize confrontations by landowners, and it will allow people to know exactly how many people are on private land and for what reasons.

If someone is on private land that does not have permission, Morgan said that gives rural landowners more reason to call police.

Wotherspoon characterized this bill as “unenforceable” and said the province should be focusing more on root causes of crime like high rates of crystal meth use.

There is no set time-frame on when the regulations and app will be finalized. Morgan does not expect that will happen before fall, but expects the law to come into force in a reasonable amount of time.

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