Alberta tour focuses on rural crime concerns

Despite efforts to reduce rural crime over the past couple of years, issues of property theft and break-and-enters continue to alarm small communities. | File photo

The government says it will use feedback from the meetings as a way to inform it on how to best resolve the issue

The Alberta government is touring the province to hear concerns about rural crime and to learn how to best resolve the issues.

Despite efforts to reduce rural crime over the past couple of years, issues of property theft and break-and-enters continue to alarm small communities.

“We want to see crime rates go down,” Doug Schweitzer, the justice minister and solicitor general, said in a recent interview. “We want to see cases being prosecuted in our courts and we want to make sure we’re continuing to work with ALERT (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams) to disrupt organized crime.”

While on tour, he said one issue he’s been hearing about regularly is trespassing, referencing the recent turkey barn confrontation by animal rights activists in southern Alberta.

He said the government is looking at options to combat such issues.

“We cannot have a trend of people trespassing on farms to disrupt farming activities,” he said. “It goes right to the integrity and the ability to maintain livestock. It compromises the health of the animals and for farmers to do their job.”

Another concern that continues to linger among communities is repeat offenders, who commit crimes, go to jail for a day or two, are released and then re-commit crimes.

Garth Kohlsmith, president of the Alberta Citizens on Patrol Association, said he wants to see harsher punishments for repeat offenders.

“Something needs to be done differently,” he said. “The system is not working as well as it could.”

Kohlsmith also endorses changes to the federal criminal code that would allow more leeway for rural landowners to defend their property by force.

Conservative MPs have requested the scope to be broadened on what constitutes reasonable use of force when someone is defending property or a person.

When judges are determining reasonableness, the MPs want them to consider remote locations, emergency response times, the willingness of the suspect to leave the premises, the number of suspects, and codification of current common law principles regarding self defence, defence of third parties and defence of property.

The MPs also want the code amended so that targeting vulnerable people or property, including remote and rural properties, is an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Schweitzer said the province will help push for those amendments to the criminal code.

“When an individual targets a farm family, they target them because they are kilometres away from the next residence. It’s isolated and dark, and individuals can’t be identified when they come up to the property. That is in an extenuating circumstance that should be taken into consideration when sentencing,” he said.

As well, communities and the RCMP’s rural crime reduction units are trying to help solve the root cause of crimes, whether it’s the offender’s mental health or addiction.

Stemming those problems to get people out of the cycle of repeating crimes would be helpful, said Trevor Tychkowsky, past-president of the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association.

“Are we rehabilitating properly to stop an offence from happening?” Tychkowsky said. “We need to look at that bigger picture as to why they are doing this. Putting people in jail isn’t always the answer.”

He said it’s important for people to report crimes because RCMP will then have a better idea of where the hotspots are.

As well, protecting belongings, like locking your vehicle, is important, he said.

Schweitzer said the province will be taking a multi-pronged approach.

“It can’t just simply be prosecutions, it can’t simply be policing, it can’t be in isolation, and that’s why I’ve been encouraged by how some of our specialized courts have performed here in Alberta,” he said.

“There are others that are performing well in other jurisdictions, so we’re making sure we utilize data and best practices. It has to be in collaboration with health, housing, social services to make sure individuals that are suffering from addictions and mental health get the services they need.”

As part of its platform, the United Conservative Party promised it would spend $37 million on crime reduction initiatives, with $20 million of those funds for ALERT, $10 million for more crown prosecutors and support staff, $5 million to expand drug treatment courts and $2 million for electronic monitoring technology.

It promised it would also keep funding the RCMP’s rural crime reduction efforts, which was initially brought forward by the NDP.

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