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A proposed anti-trespassing bill in Alberta is more about setting up a political fight than solving a problem, political scientists say.

The bill, introduced by Joseph Schow, United Conservative Party MLA for Cardston-Siksika, seeks to bar federal officials from trespassing on private land. However, provincial cabinet ministers have been unable to provide examples of a single documented instance of trespassing by federal employees on private land in Alberta.

“Every single element of this to me looks like there’s no actual issue here,” says Lars Hallstrom, a political scientist at the University of Lethbridge. “It’s politics looking for a problem.”

The bill seems like an appeal to rural voters who are already firmly in the UCP’s camp and is unlikely to swing uncertain voters to their cause since there isn’t really an issue to solve, Hallstrom said.

“It’s clear that the UCP wants to fight Ottawa,” said Duane Bratt, professor of political science from Mount Royal University, “they want to link (Alberta NDP Leader Rachel) Notley to (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau.” He explained that this bill would do that by getting the Opposition to defend the federal officials in question.

Bratt noted messaging from the UCP never refers to the Canadian government and instead uses the term federal government. He says it may be an attempt to get their voter base in Alberta to view the Canadian government as an “interloper” or an “insurgent, alien force,” rather than as the legitimate government of the country — including Alberta.

Hallstrom explained federal officials have no nefarious reasons to enter private land. In one documented case in Saskatchewan in summer 2021, federal officials were discovered testing water on the wrong side of the road. The tests were looking for pesticides in the water and were being done as a public health measure, Hallstrom said.

In that case, the water testers thought they were on public land but were on the wrong side of the road, he added.

Mark Dorin, co-founder of the Polluter Pay Federation from Red Deer, Alta., says public health tests by federal staff should not be considered trespassing.

“Every single element of this to me looks like there’s no actual issue here,” says political scientist Lars Hallstrom. “It’s politics looking for a problem.” #ableg

Dorin maintains the biggest trespassing culprit in Alberta is not the federal government but surveyors from oil and gas companies.

“I represent landowners all over the province that have energy activities on their land,” Dorin said in an interview, “and I can assure you that I have a host of trespass. It’s almost everyone’s property; landowners are totally ignorant about this.”

When pressed by media for examples, Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney, spokesperson for Minister of Justice Tyler Shandro, conceded in a statement: “There have been no confirmed cases of trespass by federal government employees in Alberta.”

Concerns were raised by landowners because of an incident in Saskatchewan last year when a landowner claimed federal officials entered their land without permission, the statement went on to say. That incident has not been confirmed.

Alberta’s proposed bill arose from a review of the Petty Trespass and the Trespass to Premises acts, both of which currently apply to individuals and corporations, that determined extending those acts would strengthen them.

Hallstrom said the fact the proposed bill follows the language and circumstances of the bill in Saskatchewan is proof of its political grandstanding, which could lead to dangerous situations for federal officials carrying out their duties.

“There were death threats in Saskatchewan on social media. ‘If you see a federal inspector on your land, fire at will.’ This is potentially endangerment,” Hallstrom said. He worries the situation could become violent because of the antagonism in parts of rural Alberta towards Ottawa at the moment, using the blockade of the national border at Coutts in January 2022 as an example.

Bratt said he believes it is unlikely the bill will pass.

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