Rhino's Ramblings - Permission Only

Robert Thomas

It could be one of the hottest issues in this sitting of the Legislature and that is changes to the Trespassing Act or should I say adopting an all encompassing act which will make it illegal for anyone without the landowner’s permission to enter or be on someone else’s land. 

The reverse onus is no longer there requiring landowners to post, and maintain, No Trespassing signs on their property. From the feel of the legislation coming it appears unless people have permission from the landowner anyone out creeping around on privately owned land is now trespassing - no exceptions. 

Although I personally haven’t seen the legislation from the sounds of it, it could end up splitting not only some urban residents with rural ones but also angering a lot of First Nation's people. 

Simply put its either one of the best pieces of legislation the Premier Scott Moe or the Saskatchewan Party government can devise or one of the most divisive knee jerk reactions out there to the growing problem of rural crime.

Now I don’t know all of the ins and outs of this issue and I will be honest and say I don’t fully understand the fears First Nations people have regarding this proposed legislation as I never can put myself in their shoes. In some ways it could be argued it erodes treaty rights when it comes to hunting and fishing. But there is also an element of fear, also hotly contested by both sides, for and against the legislation.

For landowners it helps them better manage their property and grants them more rights to prevent theft or worse, while for First Nations it stokes some great fears of violence towards them. Memories of the Colton Boushie case still resonate loudly out in rural Saskatchewan.

But I can tell you there is a large growing fear of crime in rural Saskatchewan and not just property crime but violent crime often with hard drug connotations tied to it. The great crystal methamphetamine crisis we've seen in urban Saskatchewan is, whether we want to admit to it or not, out there in rural Saskatchewan as well. Some of it transient, other parts of it, now locally entrenched to one degree or another. It’s now a major problem across the Prairie provinces. 

And I’m going to be perfectly honest and tell you it’s a growing concern in rural Saskatchewan no matter what colour your skin is. 

Now is meth the main driver of rural crime? No it isn’t but it’s rapid influx into rural regions of the province is a growing time bomb many people fear.

For many farming folk the mind settling tranquillity of living in one of the most peaceful and safe regions in the world has been shattered by recent events and fears of what is yet to come  – whether real or imagined – has them demanding action to protect their families, lives and property. 

Other rural residents quite frankly enjoy the tranquillity of not having to worry about who is out in your fields tearing up crops left out for the Winter because of this year’s delayed harvest. 

Farmers also worry about bio-security risks such as club root (a soil-borne fungus that infects the plant's root system making it difficult for plants to absorb water and nutrients) is just starting to be found in the province and can devastate canola crops. Club root can be spread from vehicles which are not properly cleaned that travel from infected to clean fields.

Snowmobiles and ATVs if driven over alfalfa fields and winter crops during the Winter can kill a producer’s hard work. They also can bring in seeds of noxious weeds from often far off locales which can cut into a farm's bottom line especially if the farm is a registered seed grower. 

And yes some rural residents simply want to know who is on their land and will allow access if people request permission. 

Other rural residents are against hunting and recreational use on their land because the land owner enjoys nature and wants to leave it undisturbed as much as possible and even provide a refuge for local wildlife. 

There are many more reasons why rural landowners and residents fully support this legislation and have lobbied for it. 

On the other side of the coin there are concerns from the snowmobiling and ATV crowd the legislation will greatly restrict their recreational activities. Before they go out snowmobiling across the open fields they are going to need permission. They will be forced into limiting their use of snowmobiles to ditches, trails and Crown lands or frozen lake surfaces unless they can get a landowner to sign off. 

Additionally with a lot of farmland now held by corporations, many large and numbered, will the lessee producer be sufficient permission or will recreational users have to track down a nameless corporate owner or get permission from both parties? It’s a question more than a few recreational users are asking. It’s seen as a major hurdle in their outdoor activities.

The same applies to hunters who now will have to ask permission to hunt on all privately owned land. It’s a move supported though by the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation to ask land owner permission first.

I have heard a few city hunters decry it heavily calling for the end of every farm subsidy known in retaliation. It’s a loss of their right to hunt where they desire – even though such a right doesn’t exist. 

For First Nations people a big problem they see is it severely limits their right to fish and hunt as allowed under the Treaties. Additionally it’s seen as a threat because of the Boushie case and the fears it fosters a shoot first ask questions later mentality. Fears they see fueled further with the Province sending out a tender for carbine rifles for conservation officers as part of an overall rural crime control initiative.

On the political side it could well be argued this is a move playing to the SaskParty's rural base. In some ways a strong argument because if you have ever spent actual time having coffee and meeting with people in rural Saskatchewan the support for the move is massive. Many rural residents seeing it as necessary evil given the growing rise, or at least the fears, of rural crime. 

For the NDP, who are likely going to have to strongly oppose the proposed legislation because of their base, it’s a major blow to any hopes of showing party leader Ryan Meili as just a rural farm kid who made good in the big city. This is a piece of legislation which could greatly derail his and the NDP's hopes of making inroads in rural Saskatchewan. A place where the NDP must make major inroads into if they are ever to form a government. 

All efforts of portraying Meili as understanding and a viable alternative for that all necessary rural vote could readily be drowned out on this issue.

On the other side of the left, the NDP will have to be wary of their own left as well as the Green Party as it is an issue they will undoubtedly take a stand on. It leaves Meili with little maneuvering room.

Now I am going to guess the NDP is going to use a political strategy on this issue involving calling for a more holistic approach to the problem of rural crime and how at least some of it is tied to the drug trade. It’s going to call for a long term solution. The problem with this strategy though in my own opinion it does very little to stop the problem now and likely to have little traction in rural Saskatchewan and to some extent in urban areas of the province as well.

As more than a few rural dwellers have told me they want action now and not later. It could well be an answer the NDP cannot offer.

moose jaw