Environment minister responds to trespassing accusations by Saskatchewan government

Debra Murphy, 2013

Saskatchewan politicians who made a very public accusation of trespassing by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) scientists have received an equally public response from the federal environment minister, Steven Guilbeault.

In a letter to Jeremy Cockrill, the minister responsible for Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency, dated August 24, Guilbeault writes:

“I believe that we, and Canadians, are best served when we engage on the facts—not heated and misinformed rhetoric. In your role as Minister responsible for Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, you will be well aware that water quality is one of those rare issues that unites all Canadians.”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Cockrill took to Twitter this past weekend to demand an explanation from Guilbeault’s department, with Moe tweeting, “We are demanding an explanation from federal Minister Guilbeault on why his department is trespassing on private land without the owners’ permission to take water samples from dugouts.”

ECCC confirmed it was aware of sampling and an interaction between a landowner and an employee near Pense, Saskatchewan.

In an interview with RealAgriculture, Cockrill says it was relayed to him that federal employees said they were taking water samples for pesticide residues and nitrate levels.

Guilbeault’s response says that’s untrue, stating the following:

“You brought this matter to my attention in your very public and very frank letter of August 21. I also took note of your comments openly speculating about the work of these scientists. Please allow me to be equally frank and public in my response: 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. The claims made in the media about this incident compound other recent misinformation regarding the voluntary nature of the fertilizer emission reduction goals, mischaracterizing work that is voluntary, unregulated and being done in partnership with Canadian farmers to reduce emissions, not fertilizer use.”

The federal minister also writes, “If a federal scientist inadvertently encroached on private land without permission, this is matter that can surely be handled in a mature and informed manner,”

ECCC says it is currently reviewing its water sampling practices to ensure it is following the required protocol, including an Order-in-Council pertaining to provincial trespassing legislation that was signed by Premier Moe on August 20.

It should be noted that a lack of water testing data was cited as key failing by opponents to recent neonic proposals by Health Canada.


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