Much is being made of a resolution recently passed by Saskatchewan rural municipalities that asks government to “expand the rights and justification” for farmers to defend and protect themselves and their property.
It is being assigned racist or vigilante overtones by some who’ve commented upon it, largely because of the shooting death last year of a First Nations man in a Saskatchewan farmyard.
But at its heart, the motion is an appeal for help by people accustomed to being self-sufficient who now find themselves ill-equipped to deal with rising rural and agriculture-related crime.
Farmhouses and buildings are being broken into, equipment and household items taken and damage done to personal property. Cattle are rustled. Stored crops and fuel are stolen.
It appears that most incidents are crimes of opportunity, when no one is around and security measures are non-existent or easily breached.
In the rarer circumstance where someone is present at the same time as an individual with nefarious intent, farmers are not alone in wondering what to do and how to do it.
Calling 911 may work in cities, but on the rural Prairies, a quick response is rare because of distance and RCMP availability.
Gone are the days when farmers could glibly confide that they never locked their doors. Similarly distant are the times when keys could be left in tractors, trucks and all-terrain vehicles so they were convenient for other family members and employees to use at will.
And where did those days go? The sun set on them as farms grew fewer and larger, neighbours farther away and law enforcement underfunded and sparse.
Those days were swallowed in the twilight of an economic downturn and conditions fostering higher unemployment and desperation born of poverty or the illegal drug trade.
Expanding “rights and justification” in law for people seeking to protect themselves and their property is unlikely, as Saskatchewan Justice Minister Gord Wyant has indicated.
Greater legal latitude for confrontation, with its tendency to encourage violence, is not a solution, and if that is the resolution’s intent, it is dangerous and wrong.
What’s right about the resolution, though, is the way it has raised awareness about rural crime and the difficulties in addressing it.
Governments are loath to expand property protection rights, while a larger RCMP force, sufficient to police the vast rural Prairies and respond to incidents within minutes, is unrealistic.
However, could the RCMP be tasked with dedicating more resources to agriculture related thefts than they do now? Could governments underwrite insurance for damage to rural possessions and property as a result of crime? Could those same governments provide grants to farmers and ranchers with which to buy and install alarms, locks, security cameras and related surveillance software?
Those efforts would help to answer rural municipalities’ call for help.
Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.