Saskatchewan proposes controversial trespass law requiring landowner permission

SASKATOON — A First Nations leader says proposed Saskatchewan legislation that would require people to get permission before going on private land could lead to clashes and even deaths.

Chief Bobby Cameron with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said a man was found hunting on Kawacatoose First Nation land on Tuesday. Cameron said the man was told he didn't have permission to hunt there and was escorted off. But it may not always be that simple, the chief said.

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"Had it been the other way around, I don't know if a farmer would have been that kind or that patient."

The proposed changes to trespassing laws were introduced Tuesday, more than two years after Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Indigenous man, was killed on a farm in rural Saskatchewan.

Earlier this year, a jury acquitted farmer Gerald Stanley of second-degree murder after he testified his gun went off accidentally when he was trying to scare off some young people who drove onto his property.

"We hope there are no more tragedies, we really hope," Cameron said. "But if they do, this provincial government should also say, we will be held liable if someone dies because of this trespassing legislation."

Justice Minister Don Morgan said the proposed law balances the rights of rural landowners and the public. The legislation would provide legal protection for landowners against property damage caused by a trespasser.

A recent survey released by the province showed 65 per cent of respondents said people should ask landowners for permission before they go onto private land.

"Our goal ... is protecting landowners, not necessarily protecting the rights of somebody that wants to come onto the land," Morgan said in Regina.

He said the legislation would put rural land on par with urban land where owners don't have to prove that a property was fenced or marked. Not being able to find somebody is no excuse to go on the land without permission, he added.

"I would hope that landowners would adopt a reasonable position and make themselves available," Morgan said.

Cameron said it's unfortunate the province didn't consult the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations 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."

Opposition NDP critic Trent Wotherspoon said the proposed legislation isn't practical and doesn't address rural crime.

"To make changes that have an impact without engaging in good faith (with) Indigenous peoples, traditional land users on that front, is disgraceful," he said.

— Follow @RyanBMcKenna on Twitter

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