Saskatchewan Government Proposes Controversial Trespass Legislation

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On Tuesday, November 27th, the Government of Saskatchewan introduced new legislation that would amend The Trespass to Property Act, The Snowmobile Act, and The Wildlife Act, 1998.  Essentially, the new laws would require members of the public to obtain permission from rural land owners before entering onto private land.

As it stands, the burden has been on rural land owners to post signs on their property in order to legally deny access to the land.  The new legislation will now shift the burden of responsibility away from land owners and on to those who wish to access the land, as they will be required to obtain prior permission from the land owner or occupier.  The government has stated the proposed changes will help better ensure land owners and occupiers are informed of the presence of others on their land.  Justice Minister Don Morgan believes the amendments will create a balance between the rights of rural land owners and the public.  According to Morgan, the legislation would provide better legal protection for land owners against property damage caused by a trespasser.  Further, the government has also justified the amendments as a way to protect land owners against the risk of agricultural diseases and as a way to limit any liability that may arise from a trespasser’s presence on their property.

The proposed changes, however, have been met with heavy opposition from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in the province.  FSIN has criticized the new legislation as being unconstitutional.  FSIN Vice-Chief Heather Bear says the changes to trespass laws would undermine inherent and constitutionally protected treaty rights of Indigenous people to hunt, fish, and trap.  Another First Nations leader also claims that the proposed legislation could potentially lead to clashes, and even deaths.  Morgan has stated the new requirement of obtaining permission prior to entering private property is “legal and is valid and does not interfere with existing treaty rights,” and that “there is no duty to consult on something that does not interfere with or affect treaty rights.”

In light of the conflict, it seems that FSIN and the Government of Saskatchewan may likely head to court on the matter.  The government will likely have to defend its new amendments in the courts.

The proposed trespass laws come more than two years after Colten Boushie, a 22-year old Indigenous man of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation, was shot and killed when he trespassed onto a farm in rural Saskatchewan by Gerald Stanley.  In a highly controversial verdict, Stanley was acquitted of second-degree murder by a jury in February of this year when he testified that his gun went off accidentally when he tried to scare Boushie and his friends off of his property.

As such, the relationship between FSIN and Indigenous people with rural land owners has been complex, strained, and fractured.  Much remains to be seen regarding how the courts will address the proposed legislation and, more particularly, how treaty rights and the property rights of land owners will be balanced in this context.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student.  Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.