Nick Cornea never imagined that a Facebook page he started for farmers to discuss crime would take off the way it did.
A month after the Briercrest, Sask., farmer established Farmers Against Rural Crime, it had more than 16,225 members from coast to coast.
What’s more, the discussion has been relatively respectful with many seeking solutions rather than casting blame or outing suspects. Those who step out of bounds are blocked or their comments deleted by moderators.
“We’re looking for policy changes, looking for a peaceful solution,” Cornea said.
“Part of it is to bring awareness that we aren’t a bunch of redneck racists with guns wanting to shoot anyone who comes on our property.”
He wants to come up with ideas and lobby governments for change and has already met with MLAs and members of the RCMP.
The idea for the page came Feb. 28 around 9:30 p.m. after Cornea had watched a video of an encounter between thieves and a farmer involving firearms.
“After everything that’s going on, between the farmer in Okotoks (who was charged in Alberta after shots were fired at intruders on his property) and Gerald Stanley (who was acquitted in the second-degree murder of Colten Boushie on his farm in Saskatchewan) and the crime that’s going around everyday, this is an epidemic,” he said.
“We need some serious change.”
Rural crime in his own community drew headlines in 2014 when three young offenders were caught by a town-wide effort to warn everyone and thwart their escape. The offenders were eventually brought across a muddy field in a tractor, accompanied by RCMP.
However, Cornea said young offenders often receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
He suggested a return to an old idea in which offenders work off their fines or sentences through activities such as cleaning highway ditches and picking up recycling.
“It would be something that they would be giving back to the community that they have hurt,” he said.
Cornea said many farmers who don’t live on their farms worry every day that they will find something missing. He doesn’t even like equipment left in fields over night.
“I don’t think people grasp the magnitude of the amount of crime that’s going on out here,” he said.
“This is our livelihoods and this is our business, as well as our homes.”
He said the Facebook page membership is diverse, and the RCMP supports a positive effort to invoke change.
“Unlike some of the Facebook groups that are involving firearms with it, they see that we’re level headed and that we want change,” Cornea said.
That’s why the moderators are diligent about stopping racist or violent comments.
“It makes it hard for me to say that we’re civil if everyone’s going on there saying, ‘I’m going to shoot up whoever comes into my yard.’ ”
He hopes to have an informational booth at Canada’s Farm Progress Show and is considering setting up a non-profit organization that can work for positive change.