NDP justice critic renews calls to rethink plans for provincial marshals service following meetings in Prince Albert

Troy Fleece/Regina Leader-Post NDP Justice Critic Nicole Sarauer.

NDP Justice Critic Nicole Sarauer renewed calls for the Saskatchewan government to rethink plans for a provincial marshals service following meetings with Prince Albert police.

Sarauer was in Prince Albert for the NDP Town Hall on Jan. 22, then stayed the next day for further meetings with community leaders. One of those meetings was with Prince Albert Police Service leadership. After the meeting, Sarauer said it was even more apparent there were better ways to spend the estimated $20 million it will cost to operate the marshals service every year.

“What I heard from those folks, from leadership, is that the challenges in PA aren’t much different from what we’re hearing across the province,” Sarauer said during a phone interview. “The rising rates of mental health, addictions, and homelessness, which are visible on the streets of Prince Albert, are something we’re seeing across Saskatchewan. It has gotten much worse, in particular over the last six years.”

Sarauer applauded the move to have social workers on shift with officers to help police deal with complaints that may involve mental health or addictions. However, she said there aren’t enough on every shift to make a long-term impact.

She said taking half of that $20 million and using it on frontline mental health workers and mental health beds in places like Prince Albert could cut down on the load municipal police officers bear. The remaining $10 million, she said, should go to police services who already have officers on the round.

“That would provide real-time support on both of those ends of the spectrum today, rather than waiting for a police service that isn’t even going to be operational until 2026 at the earliest,” she said.

Sarauer said funding cuts to community-based organizations are hurting Prince Albert. She said local community leaders have solutions, but aren’t receiving proper funding to implement them.

“I think it’s really important for provincial leadership to understand that Prince Albert is not Regina,” she said. “Prince Albert is not Saskatoon and solutions that may work in one of those centres may not work in PA, and that solutions must be driven from community…. There is a lot that could be happening if we had a provincial government that listened, and we don’t have a government that listens to policing and community leadership right now.”

The provincial government announced plans for a new marshals service in 2022, with the goal of being operational in 2026. At the time, then Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell said the marshals would help support RCMP and municipal forces in high crime areas, with a focus on arresting people with outstanding warrants, and cracking down on rural crime

“We know there are areas in Saskatchewan that need more visible, active policing,” Tells said following the announcement. “The SMS will provide that and work with RCMP and municipal police to strengthen law enforcement across the entire province.”

The province allocated $7 million for the service in the 2023-24 provincial budget and appointed retired RCMP officer Robert Cameron as the first Chief Marshal in November. The marshals will be headquartered in Prince Albert.

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca