Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer wants to hear from rural Albertans
By Diego Flammini
Alberta’s minister of justice is touring rural communities to discuss concerns about the increase in rural crime.
The police-reported crime rate in rural Alberta was 10,964 per 100,000 people in 2017, a Statistics Canada crime report said in May 2019. That number is up from 10,860 in 2016.
For comparison, the police-reported crime rate for urban Alberta in 2017 was 7,920 per 100,000 people.
Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer wants to work collaboratively with Albertans to find solutions to crime in rural communities.
“First-hand conversations with Albertans will help ensure our actions truly reflect where Albertans are today,” Minister Schweitzer said in a Sept. 4 statement. “We recognize the unique vulnerability of Albertans in rural areas. We want to work with them to ensure our justice system reflects the realities of rural Alberta and has the tools and resources necessary to ensure rural Albertans feel their justice system protects them, their loved ones and their property.”
Producers are looking forward to exchanging ideas with the minister.
Cutting down on response times is a main issue for rural Alberta, said Dan Doll, a cash crop producer from Fairview, Alta.
“It always seems like (rural communities) are working from behind because you can’t expect the RCMP to catch the criminal when response times are long,” he told Farms.com. “Sometimes it becomes like a cold case because the evidence isn’t there anymore.”
Minister Schweitzer will be in Doll’s community of Fairview on Wednesday and the farmer hopes he can attend the meeting.
Producers are so frustrated with how rural crime is handled that some have discussed taking matters into their hands, Doll said.
“I’m worried about that,” he said. “It can be a very scary situation and you don’t want anyone to do anything like that..”
The usual crimes committed in rural communities is theft, ranging from equipment parts to fuel. When crime happens, it costs farmers time and money.
Offenders are becoming more brash because they know there won’t be an immediate police presence, Doll said.
“You used to be able to park your equipment outside overnight and not worry about anything happening to it,” he said. “Now, you park it and take the keys out, but the next morning you’ve got a broken window, a missing GPS and an empty fuel tank. Now we’ve got to pay for replacement parts and fuel.”
In terms of cracking down on lawbreakers once they’ve been caught, “the justice system needs to throw the book at these people to make it so they won’t do it again,” Doll said.
Another popular topic of conversation in rural Alberta is personal protection.
How rural citizens can protect themselves is always the main theme of meetings of Alberta Rural Crime Watch, an organization made up of farmers and RCMP representatives that discuss crime in rural communities.
“We’re always talking about what we can do to protect ourselves and our property while still being legal,” Craig Lehr, a rancher from Medicine Hat, told Farms.com. “Some people talk about taking a minimal approach, while others talk about using guns. And what about having guard dogs? There are so many grey areas, and sometimes the victim of the crime ends up being charged instead of the offender.”
Minister Schweitzer’s tour will stop in Medicine Hat on Sept. 30 and, like Doll, Lehr plans to attend the local meeting.
Investing in more officers could be one way of helping prevent rural crime.
“There’s just not enough officers, and the areas they have to cover are so big,” Lehr said. “And nobody knows who the RCMP officers are anymore because they’re not members of the community. You used to see them all the time at local events, but now they’re just guys in cars.”