Rural crime tour hits Sylvan Lake

About 60 people showed up to voice concerns about state of crime and punishment in Alberta

One farmer said he has spent $30,000 on security, barricading himself on his property to defend against rampant rural crime.

“There are cameras everywhere and I still don’t feel safe,” he said at a rural crime town hall meeting with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer Thursday night.

“We actually hired private security to come to our farm and we’re paying $30 an hour so we can leave and have peace of mind for the time we’re gone. That’s ridiculous.”

Schweitzer, who was joined by Agriculture Minister and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen, did not hear many rural crime horror stories at the 60-strong gathering, but those who showed up were clearly united in their belief the justice system is broken.

It did not take long for the case of Eddie Maurice to come up during the question-and-answer session. He was accused of shooting a trespasser in February 2018 after he fired warning shots on his Okotoks-area property. Charges were dropped but he has now been sued for $100,000 by one of the trespassers whose arm was injured.

Schweitzer said the government does not usually weigh in on issues before the justice system but spoke in defence of Maurice because anybody could find themselves in his situation. Premier Jason Kenney contributed, as a private citizen and out of “compassion” $100 to a defence fund for Maurice that has already raised more than $50,000.

A number of people at the meeting were critical of a revolving-door justice system that turns repeat offenders loose after only short stints behind bars.

Among the initiatives, the province is looking at is taking advantage of a section of the Criminal Code that will allow community impact statements. Similar to the victim impact statements common in sentencing, the wider-scope versions would ensure a judge knows the impact a criminal had on whole communities.

Schweitzer said there needs to be better precedents set in punishing criminals. What may seem a suitable punishment in downtown Toronto does not work in rural Alberta.

The minister said the government is committed to hiring 75 Crown prosecutors, 25 soon and the other 50 phased in coming years.

It is hoped that smaller communities and counties will be favourable to a plan to have them pay a portion of policing costs, which could lead to more enforcement. Hundreds of additional RCMP officers for rural areas are also being considered.

The RCMP says they could provide 100 to 200 a year if needed.

Red Deer County Coun. Dana Depalme questioned how so many more officers could be found since she has heard often that existing detachments are under-staffed.

“I can’t see how you can do that.”

Schweitzer said they have pressed the RCMP on what numbers are realistic and that is what they came up with.

Schweitzer’s rural crime tour began in September and was extended for a second month. The tour heads to Rocky Mountain House and St. Paul later this month.

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