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An organizer fires up the crowd during a rally near the Legislative Building in Regina on Feb. 5. Saskatchewan wants to change its legislative security to thwart violent extremists during the COVID-19 pandemic.Michael Bell /The Canadian Press

A large crowd in front of the Saskatchewan legislature shouted for Premier Scott Moe to “come on out” as the government delivered its throne speech last fall.

The COVID-19 vaccination protest and threats led to cancellation of the day’s public ceremonies for the first time in the province’s history.

One week earlier, a man was charged with threatening the premier and the province’s chief medical health officer in an e-mail about COVID-19 measures.

The Saskatchewan Party government introduced a bill in November to improve security in the legislature and on its grounds.

Minister of Policing Christine Tell told a committee meeting Tuesday about the bill and said the sergeant-at-arms, who is in charge of security within the building, “is not able to provide what is needed in the year 2022.”

Ms. Tell, citing a Canadian Security Intelligence Service report from last spring, said the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened xenophobic and anti-authority narratives.

Saskatchewan premier asks border protesters to respect the freedoms of other people

“It has heightened [political] rhetoric, people’s behaviour toward each other, more violence. I hate to use that word ... but people are more aggressive,” Ms. Tell said.

“Frequent lines are crossed with respect to threats and intimidation and harassment.”

She said governments across Canada have experienced the same thing with “freedom rallies” opposing pandemic policies and democratic institutions.

“Read the newspaper. Watch the news. All of it,” Ms. Tell said. “In touching base with other provinces throughout the country, we have arrived at this point.”

If passed later this month, the bill would create 11 new armed constable positions and a director for a security unit that would report to the governing party.

Getting access to resources through the Ministry of Policing, the unit would also be able to tap into intelligence from other policing agencies across Canada, including top-secret information.

The constables would be trained to use lethal force, gather criminal intelligence and deal with active shooters – all of which are beyond sergeant-at-arms duties.

The officers would patrol the legislature grounds by vehicle and on foot.

The planned unit’s cost is expected to be nearly $2-million. It would be bound by the province’s Police Act, which means the officers’ behaviour could be investigated publicly should complaints be made against them.

The current powers of the sergeant-at-arms would be reduced to supervising security in the chamber and to conducting ceremonial duties.

Saskatchewan’s Opposition NDP has been critical of the bill and wants to keep legislative security independent from government.

“There is a changing discourse that has been happening in politics over the last few years, we don’t deny that,” said justice critic Nicole Sarauer.

“What we do take issue with is a government deciding to unilaterally take control of security.”

Deputy policing minister Dale Larsen said the new unit would be the most transparent and accountable security the building has ever had.

“The individuals we hire for these positions will understand the history, the culture, and the provincial tradition and love for democracy that comes with this building,” Mr. Larsen said earlier this week.

The bill still needs to pass third reading and receive royal assent. Mr. Moe has said he expects it to pass later this month. The government has said the unit would be brought in within the year.

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