An omnibus “red tape” bill tabled by the Alberta government on March 8 proposes to modify existing trespass legislation to apply to federal government employees entering private land without permission.
Bill 9, the Red Tape Reduction Statutes Amendment Act, 2023, is the province’s seventh red tape reduction bill. If passed, the bill will amend 14 individual pieces of existing legislation across nine government departments, with one of its stated goals to strengthen the rights of Alberta landowners.
“We are reinforcing our commitment to protect the property rights of Albertans, with amendments that state that the federal government is bound by existing rules around unlawful entry onto private property,” said Dale Nally, minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction, at a news conference.
The bill clarifies trespass legislation to state that rules about unlawful entry onto Albertans’ private property also apply to federal employees, said the government. “Albertans have communicated to us very clearly that they value property rights, and that they were asking for these type of protections,” said Nally.
He said that while existing legislation states trespassing is a crime, it will now be clear that it “applies to everyone.”
If Bill 9 passes as written, the Petty Trespass Act would be amended to add one point stating: “This Act binds the Government of Canada.”
Ottawa Is ‘Partner,’ Not ‘Boss’
Brian Jean, minister of jobs, economy, and northern development who also spoke at the news conference, added the clarification was necessary so that the federal government “recognizes that trespass law will apply to them.”
“They are not our bosses, and they need to see where that line is drawn,” he said.
“Federal legislation does not supersede provincial legislation. We are partners in Confederation,” added Jean. “They need to make sure that they’re within the legislative rights that they have under the Constitution.”
Nally said that Saskatchewan already put forth legislation regarding property rights, and he predicts other provinces will follow.
Saskatchewan amended its trespass laws on Nov. 23, 2022, in response to “concerns about unauthorized access to private land” by federal employees in August.
In a news release at the time, Bronwyn Eyre, Saskatchewan’s attorney general and minister of justice, said the legislation “formalizes and reinforces the change to trespass regulations, made earlier this year, that requires federal employees to comply with the Act which prohibits individuals from entering private land without the owner’s consent.”
In August, farmers in Pense, Mossbank, and Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan, complained that Government of Canada employees, in clearly marked federal vehicles, had trespassed on private lands, allegedly taking samples from dugouts.
Jeremy Cockrill, Saskatchewan’s minister responsible for water security, wrote the federal government on Aug. 21, 2022, alleging federal workers told the farmers “they were testing water sources for pesticide/nitrate levels.”
Calling it a “disappointing act of bad faith,” Cockrill stated: “The lands and water body, a producer’s dugout, are both privately owned. Government of Canada representatives did not request permission to enter from the landowner, nor did they seek permission to perform testing or advise landowners of any other purpose of necessity for attendance.”
In an Aug. 24, 2022, reply, Steven Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change, replied to the Saskatchewan minister admitting that federal employees were in the area, but stated, “Departmental officials are not testing water for nitrates or nutrients related to farm runoff, and their study is not related to the non-regulated, voluntary goals of the Government of Canada in an effort to reduce emissions from agricultural fertilizers.”
Cockrill said on Aug. 24, 2022, that dugouts on private land are outside of the federal government’s jurisdiction. Water quality management falls under provincial jurisdiction, he added.
He warned Guilbeault that federal workers sent by Ottawa could be prosecuted or arrested if they don’t seek permission to access private property.
Isaac Teo contributed to this report.