Alberta’s justice minister leading national effort to tackle rural crime

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer co-chairing national working group on rural crime

Tackling meth importers at Canada’s borders and slapping stiffer sentences on criminals are key pieces of a national strategy to combat rural crime, says Alberta’s justice minister.

Doug Schweitzer said allowing judges to hand out tougher sentences to criminals who target rural and often remote victims is one of the initiatives being pursued by a working group set up last month to develop a Canada-wide rural crime strategy. Schweitzer co-chairs the group federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

It is not a new idea. Among those who pushed it in the past was Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins, who put forward a private member’s bill to make the change in the Criminal Code.

The change to make targeting rural landowners an aggravating factor in sentencing reflects their vulnerability in not having the same police coverage as urban dwellers.

Feeding drug addictions, especially to meth, is behind a lot of rural crime activity and the working group wants to see the organizations that import the drug and its components targeted.

“The behaviour patterns of people on meth are that they are more violent, more aggressive and they tend to steal more property to feed their addiction,” he said.

“One of the reasons we focused so much on getting this national group established is we need to work with the federal government to cut off the supply of precursor ingredients that go into meth that come into the country illegally,” he said.

“We need to work with our federal colleagues to get the meth out of Canada.”

And meth use has exploded in recent years, jumping 400 per cent in Alberta since 2013.

Taking a Canada-wide approach will build on the work Alberta has already taken to combat rural crime.

Provincially, Alberta has introduced a number of initiatives, including the planned hiring of 500 new RCMP officers and support staff, adding 50 more Crown prosecutors and creating the Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence Force (RAPID) Force. It is meant to reduce 911 response times by giving additional law-enforcement responsibilities to Alberta sheriffs, fish and wildlife officers and commercial vehicle enforcement officers.

Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams are also getting $50 million more over four years to boost their crime fighting efforts, adding 4,000 drug treatment beds and expanding drug treatment courts.

Legislation protecting landowners from being sued by their criminal trespassers and expanding the scope of criminal impact statements that a judge considers before sentencing are other initiatives rolled out since Schweitzer toured dozens of communities to get feedback last year.

Schweitzer said there has been a lot of interest from other provinces in what Alberta is doing. While Alberta’s rural crime problem is the worst, there are similar trends in other Prairie provinces, and to a lesser extent in other provinces.

“It’s a national issue that requires a national response.”

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