File photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff The Alberta Rural Crime Prevention Framework has been launched to look at every aspect of rural crime and come up with recommendations on how to reduce crime.

Allowing sentencing judges to consider remoteness of crime victims has rural support

Rural residents frustrated with justice system and welcome changes

A move to have judges consider the vulnerability of rural crime victims when passing sentence on criminals has plenty of support in central Alberta.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer has sent a letter to his federal counterpart asking laws be changed to have crimes against rural landowners treated more harshly by the courts, says the CBC, which obtained a copy of the letter.

The minister wants to see the Criminal Code amended so certain aspects of rural crimes — such as specifically targeting a victim because of their vulnerability — could be considered aggravating factors in sentencing.

Other factors that be considered by a judge in sentencing include whether a break-and-enter crook refused to leave when confronted by a property owner.

Markerville-area farmer Richard Lorenz received an unwelcome reminder of how vulnerable rural property owners can be shortly after Christmas.

His truck was stolen sometime in the early hours of Dec. 27. It was used in several crimes from Red Deer to Bashaw before it turned up damaged and abandoned in Blackfalds about two days later.

It is an oft-repeated story. Attending an Agricultural Services Board meeting last Friday, he heard about a Sylvan Lake-area farmer who started up his truck to warm it up and then watched from his home as someone drove it out of the yard.

He jumped in another vehicle to follow it and found it a short distance away stuck in a ditch. The culprits walked to a nearby farm and stole a replacement.

That was abandoned in Sylvan Lake, and a third vehicle was stolen before they made their getaway out of town.

“It’s just crazy what these guys can do,” said Lorenz, who is a Red Deer councillor and has spoken about the frustration rural residents have with a justice system that appears to do little to deter repeat offenders.

Red Deer/Lacombe Rural Crime Watch president Ken Wigmore believes many rural residents would feel Schweitzer was on the right track.

“I would think there would be a lot of support out there for it.”

Wigmore does not think sentences are tough enough and has mused more than once that maybe it is time to bring back chain gangs to put a little more punishment into the prison system.

How effective the proposed sentencing changes would be is unclear. He could see judges wrestling with what is considered a rural offence.

“What’s rural? Is it one mile outside town or 100 miles out?

“There’s always a catch.”

Lacombe County Coun. Dana Kreil sees merit in looking at rural crime differently.

“It acknowledges the vulnerability of rural people who are not near police stations,” said Kreil. “If the criminal gets put away for a little bit longer time it might make people safer as well.”

Kreil pointed out Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins proposed a private member’s bill last year that would have made offences directed at people or property vulnerable because of their remoteness from emergency services be considering aggravating for sentencing purposes.

Bill C-458 was given first reading last June but has gone no further.

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