Closing our borders to free speech
Is the gov’t banning picketing on public property?
Bill 43 was introduced in the fall session by the Saskatchewan Party government. ‘The Trespass to Property Act’ will make trespassing an offence in the province of Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan currently has no anti-trespassing law.
Those found guilty of trespassing under the Act could be arrested by the police and fined up to $2000.
If Bill 43 passes, it will be an offense to be on any “premises” without the consent of the owner. Not only that, the onus will be on the accused to prove that he or she has the consent of the owner to be there.
So why did the government introduce this bill? Justice critic Frank Quennel has asked in the legislature for the rationale behind the bill, but so far no answers have been given.
Some people have suggested that trespassing in farmers’ fields is a problem, for example snowmobilers who cause damage to private property.
Others suggest that owners of strip malls are tired of non-customers loitering in their parking lots.
For these reasons, one might conclude that a ban on trespassing on private property is sensible.
But what about public property?
Bill 43 defines “premises” as “any land or water in the province”. The Act does not apply to vacant Crown agricultural land, Crown resource land, or provincial parks. But what about public space like sidewalks, roadways, highways, and all other publicly owned land? They are not mentioned as exceptions.
Typically union members use public sidewalks, highways, and other common areas such as the steps of the legislature to hold rallies and demonstrations. Could workers be found in violation of bill 43 and subject to stiff fines?
Of course it’s not just the labour movement who hold protests. Farmers’ organizations hold public rallies. And how about anti-poverty organizations and gay pride marches?
People from the left and the right hold pickets on public property. And while not everyone agrees with every political statement, in a democracy, we support one another’s freedom to express ourselves.
Every citizen is guaranteed the freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Did the Saskatchewan Party government intend to create a law that violates a fundamental Charter right?
If there really is a need for the province to ban trespassing on private property, it would be simple to fix the wording of bill 43. Exempt public property from the definition of “premises”. This amendment would reassure citizens that the right to peacefully picket, rally, protest or demonstrate will remain intact.
Bill 43 has passed second reading and expected to come back to the legislature in March.