The Manitoba government would like to strengthen penalties against individuals causing wildfires.

The penalty for someone causing a wildfire has not changed in our province since 1998. Legislation has been introduced, and if approved, it will see a substantial increase in fines and length of jail time for convictions.

Currently, the maximum penalty for a convicted individual is $10,000 and no more than one year in jail, or both. The maximum fine for a corporation is $50,000. Proposed amendments to the Wildfires Act would see the maximum penalty for convictions increased to $100,000 and no more than two years for imprisonment or both for individuals, and $1 million for corporations. 

"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," says Natural Resources and Northern Development Minister Greg 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."

Nesbitt says the penalty increases align Manitoba's with other provincial jurisdictions and better reflect the social, environmental and economic cost 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. The province says that 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.

Another amendment would see 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 finally, amendments would see updated prohibitions and the ability to stop work to rectify non-compliance issues.

The province says that 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.

If the legislation passes, these changes will take effect April 1st, 2024.