Several provinces want to update trespass legislation and tackle rural crime
By Kate Ayers
Given the growing concern about rural crime across Western Canada, provincial government officials are pushing for legislation updates to better protect farmers and other rural residents. Below, we recap the recent developments in each province.
In Alberta, officials want trespassers to be subject to stiffer penalties and officials are developing a specialized police force to address rural crime.
“Farmers shouldn’t have to worry about people entering their workplaces, interfering with their lives, or threatening the health of their animals,” Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry, says in an email statement to Better Farming.
“We are taking action to protect our farms and ranches from radical activists.”
Indeed, the government recently committed to training an extra 400 peace officers who will be part of a new Rural Alberta Integrated Defence Force (RAPID), a November Edmonton Journal article says.
It will cost $6.5 million to train officers and RAPID will cost the province about $7.7 million annually, the article says.
“Minister Dreeshen, along with Doug Schweitzer, the minister of justice and solicitor general, are working together to find ways to discourage and punish illegal protestor,” Adrienne South, Dreeshen’s spokesperson, says to Better Farming.
Recent developments include the passing of Bill 27: Trespass Statutes Amendment Act, 2019. The bill came into force on Dec. 5.
The new legislation includes a maximum first-offence trespassing fine of $10,000, which is five times higher than the previous charge. A subsequent offence could cost trespassers $25,000 and involve a possible six-month jail sentence, South adds.
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In addition, “Minister Dreeshen is amending the Animal Health Act so (that) farmers impacted by bio-security breaches can recover their costs,” South says.
“Trespassers and protesters placing biosecurity at risk (could) be fined $15,000 for first offences, then $30,000, plus up to one year of imprisonment, for repeat offences.”
Officials hope these changes to provincial legislation will curb trespassing.
Another change includes “amending the Provincial Offences Procedure Act to increase the maximum amount of compensation awarded by the court from $25,000 to $100,000,” South says.
The new bill will also include changes to the Occupiers’ Liability Act, the Edmonton Journal article says. This update would be retroactive to January 2018 and would prevent culprits from suing landowners if altercations occur while they commit crimes on private properties.
“These measures have been developed in response to the concerns raised by the more than 2,500 rural Albertans in over 20 town halls Minister Schweitzer conducted and the over 8,000 submissions he received online,” says South.
British Columbia’s Laurie Throness, the Liberal member of legislative assembly for Chilliwack-Kent, introduced the Trespass Amendment Act 2019 in the provincial legislature on Oct. 29.
Throness proposed specific and targeted penalties against trespassers on farms, an October Chilliwack Progress article says. He also wants to see greater consequences for individuals who breach biosecurity protocols. Like Alberta’s government officials, Throness proposes penalties apply to organizations that encourage activists to trespass on farms.
In Manitoba, Keystone Agricultural Producers is working with the provincial government to “enhance and fully enforce laws around intimidation, trespass, break and enter, and mischief towards farmers and lay charges to the fullest extent against those (who) break the law,” the group announced at its fall advisory council meeting on Oct. 25.
In Saskatchewan, a rural group supports and advocates on behalf of the province’s ag industry.
The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) “understands that our farmers feed the world and fuel the economy and that we need to be diligent in protecting our ability to meet the demands of feeding a growing global population,” Ray Orb, SARM’s president, says in an email statement to Better Farming.
“The SARM board may consider asking the province to raise the fines for trespassing as an added layer of protection for our producers.”
Current provincial legislation is not overly clear and SARM would like to see uniformity among all trespass-related legislation, Orb says.
“Rural crime prevention is a priority for SARM, and we have worked diligently in this area to ensure rural Saskatchewan is a safe place to call home,” he says. “SARM promotes the rural crime watch program and assisted in the development of a provincial rural crime watch association to support local chapters.”
Communities that participate in crime prevention programs could help to keep properties trespass-free and farm families safe, Orb adds. BF