Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia had higher rural crime rates than any other province in 2013, according to data from Statistics Canada.
Based on the number of violent and non-violent criminal code convictions recorded in 2013, Saskatchewan led all provinces in rural crimes with 13,080 criminal convictions for every 100,000 rural residents.
Manitoba was next with 12,185 offences per 100,000 residents, followed Alberta at 9,895 and British Columbia at 7,728. The national average, across all provinces and territories, was 6,540.
Rural property crimes — including thefts of property and motor vehicles, mischief, break and enter and arson — were also highest in the western provinces.
According to Statistics Canada, Saskatchewan also led that category with 6,609 property crime convictions per 100,000 rural residents, followed by Alberta at 5,450, Manitoba at 5,333 and British Columbia at 3,908.
In all four western provinces, rural crime rates were higher in northern areas.
However, even in southern regions where rural populations are higher and where the vast majority of agricultural activity takes place, rural crime rates in the western provinces were consistently higher than those in other provinces.
RCMP spokesperson Paul Dederick said property crimes are increasing in Saskatchewan but only marginally.
“In 2016, property crime rates did increase incrementally, year over year,” Dederick said.
“Our overall provincial rates (rural and urban) went up by one percent from 2015 to 2016 when it comes to property crime…. (However), from 2011 to 2016 … it was actually a zero percent change, so 2016 had the same property crime rates as 2011.”
Property crime rates decreased between 2012 and 2014 but rebounded in 2015 and again in 2016.
Dederick said the factors that influence rural property crimes are not much different than those that influence urban property crimes, primarily low incomes, economic hardship, lack of employment and drug addictions.
Regardless of how rural crime rates change from year to year, concerns over rural security in Saskatchewan seem to be increasing.
During its recent 2017 annual convention in Saskatoon, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities dealt with several resolutions aimed at addressing rural crime.
They called for measures that included stiffer penalties for those convicted of rural crimes, restrictions on access to rural properties, increased RCMP resources to deal with agriculture-related thefts in rural areas and expanded “rights and justification for an individual to defend or protect” himself, his family and his property.
During an address to SARM delegates, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall made a commitment to expand police resources in rural Saskatchewan.
Wall has also voiced concerns in the past over reports of RCMP staff shortages in some rural Saskatchewan communities.
In Saskatchewan, the RCMP has approximately 925 members working out of 87 rural detachments under community policing agreements.
Another 250 officers are based at larger municipal RCMP detachments and 33 are involved in community tripartite policing arrangements with Saskatchewan First Nations.
Dederick said there is nothing to suggest that criminals are more likely to target rural property owners.
A 2007 report by Statistics Canada suggested that property crimes are far more likely to occur in cities and towns than they are in rural communities.
However, farms can be easy targets, especially when the owners are not present.
RCMP Corporal Mel Zurevinski said rural property owners must take steps to secure their belongings and deter people who are looking for an opportunity to commit a crime.
Simple steps such as locking buildings and vehicles, removing keys, installing gates, lights and motion sensors and keeping tools, all-terrain vehicles and other valuables out of sight can go a long way toward deterring would-be thieves.
The use of private security is also becoming more common.
“That’s the type of thing farmers have to resort to so that they can keep on track,” Zurevinski said.
One farmer east of Saskatoon was repeatedly losing fuel, batteries and tools until he hired Flaman Security to watch his equipment.
“So he could get a good night sleep, he has Flaman sitting in a field, watching his equipment,” Zurevinski said.
“(During seeding), there were three or four times people came into the field and just by him turning on his headlights of his truck, they fled.”
Property crimes, including theft over and under $5,000, were the most common type of Criminal Code offence recorded in Canada.
Thefts of property and motor vehicles accounted for more than 10 percent of all cases heard in adult criminal courts in 2014-15, according to Statistics Canada.
Approximately 328,000 cases dealing with all types of criminal code offences were heard in Canada’s adult court system in 2014-15.
Of those, roughly 206,000 cases resulted in convictions.
Of those convicted, nearly 86,000 criminals were placed on probation, 64,000 were fined, 8,000 received conditional sentences and 147,000 received absolute or conditional discharges, suspended sentences, community service orders or prohibition orders.
About 37 percent of those convicted of a Criminal Code offence — about 76,000 individuals — served time.
That was the lowest number of custodial sentences imposed in any year over the previous 10 years.