Guilbeault Denies Allegation by Saskatchewan of Feds 'Trespassing' on Private Lands

Guilbeault Denies Allegation by Saskatchewan of Feds 'Trespassing' on Private Lands
Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 17, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Patrick Doyle)
Isaac Teo

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault is denying allegations made by the Saskatchewan government that federal scientists were “trespassing” on farmers’ lands to test water sources.

On Aug. 21, Jeremy Cockrill, Saskatchewan’s minister responsible for water security, took to Twitter, sharing a letter he wrote to Guilbeault that farmers in the Pense, Mossbank, and Pilot Butte areas have “raised concerns about Government of Canada employees, in clearly marked Government of Canada vehicles, trespassing on private lands.”

“When approached by producers, these employees indicated that they were testing water sources for pesticide/nitrate levels,” Cockrill’s letter said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe responded to the tweet within minutes, echoing Cockrill’s demand for Guilbeault to explain “why his department is trespassing on private land without the owners’ permission to take water samples from dugouts.”

In his letter reply to Cockrill on Aug. 24, Guilbeault accused the Saskatchewan government of engaging in “heated and misinformed rhetoric” and “openly speculating about the work of these scientists.”

“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,” he wrote.

Guilbeault’s argument didn’t sit well with Cockrill, who countered that the federal minister was trying to discredit the farmers’ claims.

“Today’s response from Minister Guilbeault attempts to invalidate reports by landowners,” said Cockrill in a tweet the same day.
“Producers have valid concerns about the federal gov't coming onto their land and conducting testing on dugouts, which are outside of the federal government’s jurisdiction, without permission.”

‘Very Public and Very Frank Letter’

On Aug. 19, Levi Wood, former president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, posted a photo on Twitter of a vehicle with two men on unnamed land, asking if any of his followers had encountered federal staff conducting testing on their lands.
“Anyone else see a Government of Canada SUV taking water samples from your dugouts?  They said they were ‘checking for pesticides’ #creatinganarrative,” said Wood, who runs a family farm in Pense.

Guilbeault acknowledged in his letter that on Aug. 11, water scientists from the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) took samples along a highway in Pense on behalf of Health Canada. “A landowner approached the scientists to inform them that they were in fact on private land,” the federal minister said.

In an email statement to The Epoch Times, the ECCC said it has no record of federal employees trespassing in Mossbank and Pilot Butte areas, as alleged in Cockrill's letter.

Guilbeault criticized Cockrill for using a “very public and very frank letter” approach to bring the matter to his attention.

“If a federal scientist inadvertently encroached on private land without permission, this matter can surely be handled in a mature and informed manner,” he said.

In addition, the environment minister stressed that federal scientists have been routinely conducting water monitoring across provinces and territories for 50 years.

“There are strict protocols in place that scientists must follow to ensure any water sampling is done in compliance with provincial and territorial laws,” said Guilbeault.

Cockrill’s letter on Aug. 21 reminded Guilbeault that water quality management still falls under provincial jurisdiction and that the federal government should not interfere with it. He called the sampling conducted by the federal department “covert testing.”

“While consulting on the creation of a Canada Water Agency, your government indicated that it would not infringe on provincial jurisdiction but would work in collaboration with provincial governments,” the letter said.

Canada Water Agency is a proposed agency in which the federal government would work with provinces and territories to come up with ways to keep fresh water “safe, clean, and well-managed.”

Protocol Review

Guilbeault said the rhetoric used by Saskatchewan on the water issue is akin to the one used against the Liberals’ proposal to reduce absolute levels of greenhouse gas emissions arising from fertilizer use by 30 percent.

In July, Moe condemned the federal government for pushing ahead with its plan to reduce fertilizer emissions in the name of climate change at a time when global food security is at stake.

“The same federal government who alienated our oil and gas industry is now putting global food security at risk by attacking the hard-working agriculture producers across western Canada with an arbitrary goal to reduce fertilizer usage,” he said in a tweet.

“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,” Guilbeault argued in his letter.

The fertilizer sector and farm producer groups have argued that, with the technologies currently available, a reduction of nitrous oxide emissions can’t be done without reducing fertilizer use.

Guilbeault said that “as a measure of good faith,” the ECCC will review its sampling protocols to ensure they are consistent with area laws before doing any further sampling.

“Federal officials look forward to working with Saskatchewan officials to better understand recent Order in Council rule changes, so that the important work of scientific water data analysis can continue,” he said.

In his tweet on Aug. 24, Cockrill said the situation could have been avoided if the Liberal government had taken steps to “collaborate, communicate concerns, and their intentions.”

“However, the recognition by Minister Guilbeault of the need to follow local laws is acknowledged and appreciated,” he said.