More cops, more cameras or more common sense?
What’s the best way to fight crime in rural Saskatchewan?
Questions related to rural crime generated plenty of discussion during the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities’ annual convention in Saskatoon last week, and some controversy as well.
SARM is one of the best barometers of public sentiment in rural Saskatchewan.
At its annual convention March 14-16, the organization welcomed more than 1,000 delegates — mostly elected reeves and councilors — from 296 RMs across the province.
And according to delegates attending the event, rural people are fed up with what they see as threats to their property and personal safety.
“For a lot of (rural people), I think it’s a concern about RCMP coverage itself,” said SARM president Ray Orb, when asked about delegates’ frustration.
“They don’t feel safe because there aren’t enough police out there to cover the whole province.…It’s (about having) the confidence that the RCMP are there and that when they’re called, they’ll be able to (show up) in a timely manner.
Added another delegate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: “Policing in rural Saskatchewan is inadequate and the criminals know it.… People in remote areas have had enough.”
“They feel like they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.”
At least 10 resolutions discussed at the convention were related to rural safety, crime prevention, rural policing and protection of private property.
The most controversial, introduced by the RM of Kindersley, urged SARM to lobby Canada’s federal justice department for changes that would give rural residents expanded “rights and justification” to defend themselves, their families and their properties.
That resolution received 93 percent support from voting delegates and prompted an emotional reaction from groups outside the convention hall.
The RM of Kindersley is not far from where 22-year-old Colten Boushie, a First Nations man from the Red Pheasant reserve, was shot and killed last August after he and a group of friends drove onto a farm yard near Biggar, Sask.
Shortly after the Kindersley resolution was passed, the National Farmers Union issued a statement expressing deep concern and rejecting the notion of “wild west” vigilante justice.
“This resolution, put forward under the shadow of last summer’s tragic shooting of Colten Boushie … reveals the dangerous undercurrent of fear and aggression in rural Saskatchewan,” the NFU statement read.
“We, the NFU, affirm the value of people over property. We do not support the ongoing … violence that continues to damage the social fabric of Saskatchewan.”
Livestock thefts are an ongoing concern in the RM of Whiska in southwestern Saskatchewan.
Whiska reeve Kelly Williamson gained 95 percent support for a resolution that called on SARM to join the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association and Livestock Services of Saskatchewan in lobbying for RCMP resources to be dedicated to dealing with agricultural related thefts.
“It’s no surprise to anyone in this room that agricultural thefts, be it grain, livestock or equipment, are on the rise,” said Williamson.
“We’re looking for support to have an ag-related specialist from the RCMP help to address those issues.”
Northwest of Saskatoon, in the RM of Blaine Lake, thwarting rural crime has emerged as a top priority, said reeve William Chalmers.
Chalmers said limited police resources and slow response times have contributed to a level of frustration and anger among rural ratepayers.
“Unfortunately, people are frustrated,” he said.
“How many times are you going to (call the police) if no one shows up or if they don’t show up until hours later? That’s where, unfortunately … residents are starting to take things into their own hands and are starting to confront people.”
Chalmers said rural crimes in his area are varied, ranging from weekend antique hunters who pillage abandoned farmyards to thefts of fuel and crop damage caused by hunters.
One delegate expressed frustration over hunters who drive onto private farmland, leave ruts in the field and then drag a bagged animal out of the field causing damage to unharvested crops.
Orb acknowledged that rural crimes are varied.
What everyone wants in rural Saskatchewan is a solution, and ideally a non-violent one.
“We’re not advocating … (for) farmers to be able to use their own weapons” to address rural crime, Orb said.
“(But) it’s something that I think we need to sit down (and talk to federal and provincial leaders about) … and maybe it’s something that our own members need to be more educated on.”
Orb said SARM directors will meet with delegates who passed crime related resolutions before approaching provincial or federal politicians to discuss potential solutions.
RCMP Cpl. Mel Zurevinsky told the convention that the Rural Crime Watch program is an effective way to deter criminals.
Crime Watch operates on the premise that a greater level of co-ordination and communication among rural residents allows them to identify unusual and activity more quickly and respond appropriately.
For example, co-ordination, communication, signage and the use of cameras and cell phones can help rural residents take a huge step forward in the efforts to combat rural crime.
Common sense also plays a role.
“You can’t leave quads in plain view, and you can’t leave riding lawn mowers in plain view because that criminal element is cruising our back roads, cruising our communities, looking for people that aren’t diligent about keeping those things under lock and key,” Zurevinsky said.
“(If you’re one of those people that leave doors unlocked and key in vehicles), thank your lucky stars that you haven’t been impacted yet,” he said.
“It’s only a matter of time.”