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Justice minister kicks off rural crime strategy tour

The justice minister is touring Alberta.
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The Government of Alberta kicked off its four-week Rural Crime Reduction Strategy tour Thursday night in Bragg Creek and Springbank.

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer along with Banff-Kananaskis MP Miranda Rosin and Foothills MP John Barlow, met with community leaders, business owners and residents to discuss the new strategy that was laid out under the UCP's campaign platform. Over the course of the tour, the minister is scheduled to visit 18 communities, he was in Red Deer today.

The tour is a chance to garner input on the United Conservative Party's plans for rural crime and show Albertans it is committed to quickly implementing the party's campaign promises, which includes a new rural crime strategy that would replace the NDP's strategy that came into effect in 2018.

The NDP plan included $10 million to target repeat offenders and hiring 39 more RCMP officers and 40 civilian positions. It also included $2 million for additional Crown prosecutors.

Schweitzer said, unlike the NDP's plan, which he called "too little too late," the new plan will work toward keeping offenders off the street and restoring Albertans' faith in government.

"What we heard loud and clear is that people feel abandoned by their government," said Schweitzer. 

The strategy, which Schweitzer called multi-faceted, commits to hiring 50 more prosecutors – adding to the 300 currently in the province – investing $20 million into the Alberta Emergency Response Team (ALERT) and working with the federal government "to amend sections 34 and 35 of the Criminal Code, as well as sentencing guidelines, to include vulnerabilities of rural victims in the existing list of aggravating factors." The latter also calls for clearer definitions for property owners' rights to defend themselves and their property.

The minister said the additional prosecuting power will work to help alleviate the backlog of cases in the courts, which will prevent criminals from being released on technicalities or charges being downgraded to expedite court proceedings.

There is also a recommendation for harsher sentencing for drug crime and medical rehabilitation for drug offences as a way to disrupt the activities of organized crime, Schweitzer said.

"A lot of this is being fed by organized crime. They are getting drug addicts to commit crime across Alberta," he said.

Barlow, who is on side with the province's lobby to amend sections 34 and 35 of the Criminal Code, which would help create harsher sentences when rural citizens – many of whom are isolated and vulnerable – are victims of crime, said the intent is to deter criminals and not open the door for open season on trespassers.

"I don't think anyone in Alberta wants to see vigilantism," said Barlow.

Schweitzer added it's important the Criminal Code "reflects the realities of rural Alberta."

Rosin said she is confident that a new strategy will help address the problem of rural crime in her riding, where she said, "Next to the economy, it was one of the top things that came up" when she was campaigning.

"There are so many people who have been victims of crime or know someone who has been a victim," she said.

Barlow and Schweitzer also made note that they will be working toward a plan to address "bio-security" in response to 30 activists who trespassed on to Jumbo Valley Hutterite turkey farm near Fort MacLeod. The federal MP said it is important that there are laws in place to protect farmers and the country's agricultural industry. He added the measures would not target peaceful protest.

"If they were protesting outside a farm's gates, I have no problem with that. There is a difference between peaceful protest and trespassing and breaking and entering," he said.

In May, Statistics Canada reported that the police-reported crime rate in rural parts of Alberta was 10,964 per 100,000 people in 2017 as compared to 7,920 per 100,000 in urban areas, a 38 per cent difference. It also noted that since 2009, rural crime in the province had declined by 13 per cent compared to 19 per cent in urban areas.

However, RCMP stats demonstrate a net increase in crime in both urban and rural areas between 2014 and 2018, despite a drop in crime rates in 2018 compared to 2017 when the incident number peaked for the period at 80,165.

According to the RCMP's property crime website, second-quarter data for 2019 showed a drop in crime in Cochrane's rural detachment area. The report showed decreases across the board:

• Break and enters: -46%

• Theft of motor vehicles: - 59%

• Theft (over/under) $5,000: -29%

• Possession of stolen goods: -68%

The stats were a stark difference compared to the second-quarter report for 2017 to 2018, which reported an increase in crime for all categories:

• Break and enter: +1%

• Theft of motor vehicle: +13%

• Theft (over/under) $5,000: +6%

• Possession of stolen goods: +58%

Provincially – for all detachments – the second-quarter crime stat reductions were more modest with the expectation of an increase in break and enters.

• Break and enters: +6%

• Theft of motor vehicles: - 3%

• Theft (over/under) $5,000: -5%

• Possession of stolen goods: -7%

For the same time period between 2017 and 2018 police reported a slight decrease in crime averaged across the province.

• Break and enters: -2%

• Theft of motor vehicles: - 9%

• Theft (over/under) $5,000: -7%

• Possession of stolen goods: -7%

To see stats for all detachment areas, go to http://www.rcmp.gc.ca/ab/data-and-innovation-donnees-et-innovation/index-quarter-trimestre-2-eng.htm

Minster's remaining schedule:

Tuesday, Sept. 10

  • Lacombe-Ponoka
  • Athabasca

Wednesday, Sept. 11

  • Slave Lake
  • Fairview

Thursday, Sept. 12

  • Grande Prairie
  • Whitecourt

Monday, Sept. 16

  • Cheadle

Tuesday, Sept. 17

  • Lethbridge
  • Coaldale

Friday, Sept. 20

  • Airdrie
  • Drumheller

Monday, Sept. 23

  • Drayton Valley

Monday, Sept. 30

  • Okotoks
  • Raymond
  • Medicine Hat



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Chris Puglia

About the Author: Chris Puglia

Chris is a SAIT-trained journalist with more than 20 years of experience.
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