REGINA — An Opposition member is accusing the Saskatchewan government of playing wedge politics and excluding Indigenous voices with its proposed changes to the province's trespass laws.
Buckley Belanger, the NDP member for the northern constituency of Athabasca, made the remarks in the legislature Wednesday during a debate about the Trespass to Property Amendment Act.
Introduced last November, the legislation would require people to get permission before going on private land, reversing the onus from landowners having to indicate if they do not want visitors.
Although many rural residents and community leaders support the change, Belanger said the bill is divisive and called it a politically motivated move to "simply appease a small minority."
He accused the government of not consulting or listening to Indigenous leaders and hunters.
"If I continue seeing that kind of politics coming out of the Saskatchewan Party, then you begin to question your role as an Indigenous person in this assembly," said Belanger, who is Metis.
"When do we begin to count? When does our opinion matter?"
He said the government should be putting forward legislation that is inclusive and addresses the root causes of crime.
The proposed changes were introduced more than two years after Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Indigenous man, was killed on a farm in rural Saskatchewan.
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.
Belanger called the legislation an affront to democracy and talked about his father, a Metis man from northern Saskatchewan who served in the Second World War.
"That's not what my father envisioned when he served this country," he said.
"That's not what I envisioned when I became part of the provincial legislative assembly."
Justice Minister Don Morgan said he does not believe the bill is divisive and expressed disappointment at Belanger's remarks.
He said the amendments bring Saskatchewan in line with Alberta and other provinces and balances the rights of property owners and the public.
"Essentially it says you don't need to post your land anymore to maintain your property rights."
Morgan said First Nation treaty rights would be respected and he has spoken with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in the province.
"The goal of this is to prevent people from walking around on other people's land carrying firearms," he said.
While some Indigenous leaders have expressed concerns that the proposed changes could lead to confrontations with landowners, Morgan said he believes otherwise.
"If someone obtains consent before they go on the land we're far less likely to have an incident."
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press