Saskatchewan government defends bill proposing reform of legislative building security

Policing minister Christine Tell speaks to reporters about efforts to reform security at the legislative building. Adrian Raaber / Global News

A day after it was introduced to intense Opposition criticism, the government is defending a bill which will reform security at the legislative building if passed.

Speaking during question period, Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell dedicated the move to amend The Legislative Assembly Act to “elected and unelected officials as well as staff who have encountered threatening behaviour, and increasingly so.”

“The response to these incidents has left questions on how we can enhance security for everyone who works in this building and the public,” she said in response to Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili, questioned if the new security system would be partisan.

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The legislation would see the creation of a “director of legislative security”, appointed by the corrections minister, who would oversee security of the “legislative district”.

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Currently, security in the legislative building is overseen by the sergeant-at-arms.

A screenshot of Bill 70.

“What we are doing here, what we’re anticipating starting as of yesterday, is a security component enhancement,” Tell later told reporters in the rotunda, while also calling into question the budget of the sergeant-at-arms office.

“The budget is very difficult to extrapolate ‘what is related to this, what is related to that’ and it’s not a money-saving exercise, that’s for sure.”

The sergeant-at-arms, as the bill reads, would remain responsible for security in the “legislative precinct”, or the floor of the chamber of the legislature.

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Tell admits, though, that details about structure and cost of the new initiative are yet to be ironed out.

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“What that actually looks like, I don’t know. We just don’t know at this point in time exactly what it is,” said Tell, who also declined to share the specific reasons or threats that led to the bill’s drafting.

“I can’t get into specifics, and I’m not going to. People who have voiced concerns, whether they’ve ended up at the sergeant-at arms office, through us or whatever the case may be, they have a right not to be seen.”

Multiple Saskatchewan NDP members took to social media Tuesday afternoon after the bill was introduced, calling it a “power grab and politicization of legislative security.”

Asked for further comment Wednesday afternoon, Opposition Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer reaffirmed that concerns are about the new head of security reporting directly to a government minister.

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“That’s the non-partisan board that sits and decides issues like funding for the sergeant-at-arms office,” she said.

“Those concerns haven’t been brought to that table so it’s difficult to believe that’s what’s happening here.”

She expressed concern about the amount of notice given before the bill was introduced, saying NDP House Leader Vicki Mowat was only informed about the bill late last week.

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Sarauer also said concerns about the security budget should be addressed at the Board of Internal Economy.

“The way it works now is the sergeant-at-arms is hired by the speaker who is an independent officer of this legislature. They work for all of us,” she said.

“The legislation will change security so that the director is appointed by the Minister of Corrections. That will be an individual therefore answerable to cabinet. That is wholly inappropriate. The security of this building is an issue for all of us regardless of political stripe and regardless of who is in power.”

Sarauer said she is concerned that guests attending the legislature will be signed-in by those “answerable to the Ministry of Corrections”.

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A screenshot of the bill reads that “the member of executive council responsible for the administration of The Police Act shall appoint a Director of Legislative Security”.

“We just instituted the zone around the hospitals, the zone around the schools, to keep those institutions safe. This is no different,” Tell added.

But Tell assured reporters that the legislation is “in no way” going to limit people’s ability to protest.

“This in no way is going to stop them from doing what they’re constitutionally protected to do. What we have seen is an increase in the level of the anger, frustration and the numbers also,” she said.

“What we are concerned about are the actions outside the protest, I suppose, and the reason why they’re there. They get amped up. They get into a frenzy. Things are said. Things are done.”

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She said the bill likely won’t be passed until the spring sitting.

Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison, who sponsored the bill, has not yet spoken to it publicly.

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