The Manitoba government has introduced amendments to the Wildfires Act that would enhance public safety by strengthening measures to mitigate human-caused wildfire risks, Natural Resources and Northern Development Minister Greg Nesbitt announced today in a news release.
"In Manitoba, it is estimated that nearly half of all wildfires are caused by humans, in some cases causing devastating social and economic disruptions, displacing families, threatening lives along with the loss of property, and destroying valuable natural resources," said Nesbitt. "Our government is committed to keeping Manitobans safe and this legislation enhances enforcement and investigative powers along with increased penalties to help reduce the threat of human-caused wildfires."
The proposed legislation would strengthen the enforceability of fire safety requirements and compliance tools and clarifies officer powers to inspect and investigate wildfire causes.
To ensure officers have the right tools and authorities for wildfire prevention, mitigation, and investigation, the legislation proposes a number of amendments including:
- augmented enforcement provisions that add clear authorities to inspect for compliance and to investigate wildfire causes;
- clarified authority to enter private property for inspections and investigations including officer authorities to enter or cross lands, use equipment, conduct tests and take samples and records; and
- updated prohibitions and ability to stop work to rectify non-compliance issues.
To increase public transparency and implementation of fire mitigation activities, the wildfire work permit system would be replaced with a new regulation that prescribes fire safety requirements for all industries and individuals. This change would align Manitoba's wildfire safety framework with other provinces, as it is the only province west of Quebec that does not outline and enforce fire safety requirements through regulation.
Maximum penalties for convictions, which have not been updated since 1998, would also be increased the minister noted. To better align with penalties in other provinces, the legislation proposes increasing the maximum penalties for convictions to:
- $100,000 and no more than two years for imprisonment or both for individuals; and
- $1,000,000 for corporations.
Currently, the maximum fine for an individual is $10,000 and no more than one year in jail or both, while the maximum fine for a corporation is $50,000.
"These increases align our penalties with other provincial jurisdictions and better reflect the social, environmental and economic cost of human-caused wildfires," Nesbitt said.
If the legislation passes, these changes would take effect April 1, 2024.