The province is asking Manitobans if it should follow the other Prairie provinces in updating laws to clarify landowners’ rights on trespassers and enforcing biosecurity, as well as deterring metal theft.
“I think what we need is clarity around what is trespassing and how it can be enforced,” Minister of Justice Cliff Cullen said.
Why it matters: The province is looking for public pulse on landowners’ rights, trespassing and metal theft legislation, as well as laws to enforce biosecurity.
The laws in question are the Petty Trespasses Act, the Occupiers Liability Act, Animal Diseases Act, and potential metal dealers and recyclers’ legislation.
That may include amendments to ensure trespassing law is easier to enforce, to prevent confrontations between landowners and trespassers and to ensure a landowner’s legal responsibility for injury is fair and reasonable when someone is on their property without permission, the province said in a news release Aug. 31.
An online questionnaire at engagemb.ca asks if people would support amendments that would bring trespass law more in line with Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Under Manitoba law, trespass offences only apply if the land is wholly enclosed or if the landowner confronts the trespasser and they refuse to leave, the questionnaire says. In Saskatchewan and Alberta, laws specify classes of properties or property uses where entry without the landowner’s permission is considered a trespass unless the person has a reasonable, lawful excuse for doing so (for example, emergency personnel or public utility meter readers).
The province of Manitoba is also asking for feedback on changes that would give landowners more protection in cases of injury, death or property damage suffered by a trespasser.
Cullen shied away from the idea that this might give protection to landowners who use force to deter thieves or trespassers. He said he’s supportive of organized citizen groups like Citizens on Patrol.
Changes to the Animal Diseases Act could include designating any livestock facility or vehicle that contains livestock as a “biosecurity area” or “animal protection area” that can only be entered with the owner’s or operator’s consent.
Cullen didn’t say if this was to address issues with animal rights protesters, but said Manitoba had reviewed what other provinces are doing.
“Clearly this is a biosecurity issue. We want to make sure that producers’ livestock and livestock facilities remain safe,” he said.
Last October, four animal rights activists were charged for breaking into a turkey barn on the Jumbo Valley Hutterite Colony in Alberta — a picture in a CBC report shows them sitting in a pen among the birds.
In November, Alberta beefed up fines related to trespassing and added language to its trespassing laws to explicitly include land used for raising crops, animals and for beekeeping.
This August, Ontario also passed law that made it illegal to, “stop, obstruct, hinder or otherwise interfere” with a vehicle transporting farm animals. The bill also creates zones around animal production and processing areas where trespassing may mean higher fines.
The issue gained steam in Ontario this summer after an activist was struck by a vehicle and killed in front of a Burlington, Ont., pork plant in mid-June.
In late August, Farmtario reported that the law had been passed and received royal assent, but that, “regulations are still being worked out before the bill is proclaimed.”
“Stopping motor vehicles in traffic when they are transporting farm animals is dangerous for everyone, including those who stop the trucks, pedestrians, livestock transporters and other drivers,” Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman said at the time.
The province is also floating laws related specifically to theft of precious metals. Some municipalities have already enacted bylaws to that effect, said Cullen.
“It seems to be a growing issue. It’s impacting a lot of different areas, agriculture producers for sure,” he said.
For instance, the Sept. 3 edition of The Carillon reported thefts of aluminum and copper wire from a site in the RM of La Broquerie. The loss was pegged at $4,500.
It’s not clear how big an issue metal theft is, said Ralph Groening, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities. He’s heard complaints from Manitoba Hydro, contractors and other businesses, but said the issue of metal theft hasn’t been presented as a concern to AMM.
“It is difficult to obtain statistical data on the incidence of metal theft as there is no specific metal theft offence in the Criminal Code,” a spokesperson for the province said in an emailed statement. “However, we know from information about local incidents that it is an emerging issue that is harmful to Manitobans, affects local residents and businesses in both urban and rural areas, and is extremely costly to the electricity sector as well as to construction, telecommunication and industrial sectors.”
Based on the provincial questionnaire, the proposed changes would bring transparency and accountability to scrap metal sellers, according to the province. Information on metal sellers and metal sales transactions would be collected and recorded as a way to deter thieves.
“We’re supportive of a government that tries to find solutions to the concerns about public safety. It’s all about public safety,” Groening said.
He said amending these laws will communicate the need for landowners to better understand their responsibilities.
“It will communicate the need for community members, for farmers, for people on acreages. It will be a reminder to them that they do play a role; they do have responsibilities. They are a part of the solution,” he said.
However, he said he wasn’t certain the changes would go far to alter criminal behaviour.
He said people should do their part to deter crime and stay safe, including locking doors and locking up equipment.
The questionnaire from the Manitoba government closes Oct. 31.