Saskatchewan government demands explanation for federal employees testing water sources on private land

This story has been updated to include a statement from Environment and Climate Change Canada and an audio interview with Jeremy Cockrill .

Saskatchewan’s premier and the cabinet minister responsible for the province’s water security agency say employees with Environment and Climate Change Canada have been trespassing on private land in the province, and they’re calling for an explanation why.

“We are demanding an explanation from federal Minister [Steven] Guilbeault on why his department is trespassing on private land without the owners’ permission to take water samples from dugouts,” tweeted Premier Scott Moe on Sunday.

Moe’s tweet followed a strongly-worded letter to Guilbeault signed by Jeremy Cockrill, the minister responsible for Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency (see below).

Cockrill says he’s received recent reports from producers in the Mossbank, Pense, and Pilot Butte-areas of federal employees in Government of Canada-marked vehicles on private land without permission.

“When approached by producers, these employees indicated they were testing water sources for pesticide/nitrate levels,” he says.

Cockrill says it will be considered a violation of the province’s Trespass Act if the activity continues, noting the Act includes a maximum penalty of $25,000 for repeat offenders, up to six months imprisonment following a conviction for a first or subsequent trespass offence, and a $200,000 maximum penalty for any corporation that counsels and/or aids in the commission of that offence.

It is not clear at this time if the federal employees are visiting these premises under the Canada Water Act.

The federal Act, under section 4, point 26 outlines when an inspector may enter a private property, including a few circumstances where it may be allowed without permission:

“Inspectors may at any reasonable time…enter any area, place, premises, vessel or vehicle, other than a private dwelling-place or any part of any such area, place, premises, vessel or vehicle that is designed to be used and is being used as a permanent or temporary private dwelling-place, in which the inspector believes on reasonable grounds that: there is any waste that may be or has been added to any waters that have been designated as a water quality management area pursuant to section 11 or 13, or…” (Read more here).

A spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) says the department is aware of an incident that occurred August 11 near Pense, Saskatchewan, and  is currently looking into the matter internally.

“Water scientists were taking samples very near a highway when a landowner approached the scientist to inform them that they were in fact on private land,” the department says, via email.

ECCC is also looking into the other two locations, though have found no record of them so far.

The department says it routinely conducts water monitoring across the country and has done so for over 50 years across provinces and territories.

“Science collection activities such as this is an important function of the Government of Canada, and ECCC coordinates such activities for other departments, such as Health Canada. There are strict protocols in place that scientists must follow to ensure everything is in compliance with laws in the areas,” the statement reads.

ECCC staff have been collecting samples in water bodies at targeted sites across Canada for Health Canada this year; no nitrates or other nutrients are being sampled as part of these sampling activities.

ECCC says it is reviewing sampling protocols to ensure they are consistent with area laws before doing any further sampling.

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