REGINA — The Saskatchewan Party government has begun establishing a new provincial police service, but the minister in charge says it won’t have an oversight body until boots are on the ground.
Christine Tell, minister of corrections, policing and public safety, now has authority to form the new Saskatchewan Marshals Service, said a recent order-in-council. The order states the province’s deputy minister will act in place of a board to oversee operations.
Tell said the province is to create a board for the marshals once it’s operational in 2026.
“What that looks like is still under development,” Tell said in an interview. “But in the interim, the deputy minister is the interim board as we get this thing developed.”
The province announced last fall it would create the marshals service to help enhance public safety, particularly in high-crime areas.
Most policing organizations have boards, commissions or advisory bodies made up of civilians and elected officials who provide oversight when police make decisions.
That’s why Opposition NDP policing critic Nicole Sarauer says she’s concerned the marshals won’t have a board from the get-go.
“This flies in the face of the principles of policing in Canada, the importance of the independence of police from political bodies, including government, and it’s a slap in the face to the rule of law,” Sarauer said.
“It’s very clear who’s going to be in charge of the marshals and it’s the Sask. Party.”
Tell said a board isn’t initially needed because the ministry has to develop the structure of the marshals and hire a chief.
“It is not a political function,” she said. “It’s an operational function that will assist when the chief marshal is hired, assists the chief marshal in getting all of that infrastructure in place.”
She said the province is looking at the Ontario Provincial Police’s structure, but added the marshals service will be different than a full-blown police force.
Premier Scott Moe has said the service isn’t meant to replace other policing entities, including the RCMP.
When the marshals were announced in the fall, Saskatchewan RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore questioned what the plan meant for the force. Some policing unions also raised concerns, arguing the dollars could be better spent on existing services.
The order-in-council states the marshals are to detect, disrupt and deter criminal activity in rural and remote areas. They are also to enforce provincial and federal laws, locate and apprehend prolific offenders on warrant and investigate farm thefts and damage done to crops caused by trespassing.
“(Their duties) are broad. We’re not going to be prescriptive,” Tell said.
She said the marshals can work with RCMP and other municipal forces, providing additional assistance if needed. It would need to sign agreements with those forces to do so, she said.
The marshals are to be based out of Prince Albert, but can move to other regions as needed. Tell said they will be armed, but it hasn’t yet been decided whether they’ll wear uniforms.
She said the ministry is establishing a training program geared toward experienced officers.
Tell said the ministry plans to spend $7 million this year on establishing the marshals, but added more dollars will be required next year.
Once fully operational with 70 officers, it’s expected to cost the government $20 million annually.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2023.
Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press
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