Hunkered down in a corner of the basement, a young boy living with his parents on an acreage near Prentiss three years ago called his dad on a cellphone and whispered that there were three men searching through the house.
Apparently the culprits thought nobody was home. The brazen intrusion took place in broad daylight. The frightened boy also saw the strangers checking out buildings on the property before they entered the home. It’s believed they were looking to steal ATVs.
Have thieves become so brazen that they have no fear of breaking into residences and garages at all hours? That seems to be the case. In a front page story on Tuesday in the Advocate, some Red Deer residents victimized by thieves said they are living in constant fear of the criminal element.
The most traumatic experiences are those in which thieves are entering, or attempting to enter, buildings when the residents are home.
Anthony Myer, a Highland Green resident in Red Deer, is living in such fear. Myer said he no longer feels safe in his neighbourhood after being awaken early Monday morning by the sound of somebody rattling door knobs on the back of his home and garage. Entry was not gained but he has it all on security video. And he’s angry.
“It’s been getting bad around here,” Myer told the Advocate. “It’s really dangerous when someone is trying to enter your house when you’re home.”
The video haunts him. “Now that I’ve seen the footage of him trying to enter my house when I’m at home, how does a person sleep at night? There’s got to be a way to protect yourself.”
There was a break-in earlier that morning in the same neighbourhood.
Adding to his frustrations, two weeks earlier somebody broke into Myer’s garage, stealing a new snowblower, tools and food from his freezer.
And last summer someone tried to enter his home through an open window, awakening he and his girlfriend.
Sharing Myer’s anger is Robert Bonin of the Waskasoo area. On Dec. 23, in broad daylight, somebody broke into his home and stole jewelry, watches and electronics. “We’re just frustrated,” said Bonin. “You are not safe in your home in Red Deer anymore, daytime or night, it doesn’t matter. Even with alarm systems, (criminals) know they have 60 seconds to get in and out.”
Some of Bonin’s neighbours also reported break-ins in December. “This neighbourhood has just gone to pot in the last year.”
So what’s the answer? Canadian legislation allows citizens to take whatever force is reasonably necessary to protect their lives or property if they feel threatened. Somebody breaking into an occupied home day is a person willing to take dangerous chances not knowing what the owners is capable of doing — or is not thinking rationally. Under those circumstances, the residents have good reason to fear for their lives.
This brings to light the age-old debate of using firearms for personal protection. For the most part, Canadians oppose it.
But in recent years criminal courts have taken a more lenient stand in cases involving guns used by crime victims.
On the night of April 9, Hugh Lindholm, 72, living in a rural area close to Saskatoon, fired his rifle in the air to scare off somebody skulking around his property.
Hugh and his wife were asleep when a 40-pound patio brick was hurled through a window by a highly intoxicated, would-be thief demanding Lindholm’s car keys. The senior fired two rifle shots over the head of Jason Barlow, 34, to frighten him off the property. Barlow was later charged; Lindholm wasn’t.
In 2010, Ian Thomson from the Ontario rural area near Port Colborne, had his property firebombed over a dispute involving stray chickens.
Thompson fired warning shots from a handgun to scare off the culprits.
Initially charged with numerous firearms offences, the courts later acquitted him.
Closer to home, in 2009, Tees-area farmer Brian Knight fired a shotgun at man stealing an ATV, hitting the culprit in the butt with stinging pellets. Knight was charged with firearms-related offences and sentenced to 90 days jail.
Later, the Alberta Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to a conditional discharge, one year probation, and community service work.
But each of these cases could have turned out much worse. Should property theft lead to death? When guns are involved, the stakes are heightened. Both the homeowner and the thief face greater danger, when the intent is really just to protect property.
As Central Alberta grows, more property crime should be expected.
The criminal element follows the money. Red Deer RCMP Cpl. Sarah Knelsen said break-ins when residents are home are rare — but they are happening as thieves grow bolder.
And certainly Central Alberta is no longer the sleepy hollow it used to be.
Fighting crime has taken a complex turn, not only in Central Alberta, but across Canada.
The ultimate solution lies in the hands of those trained to deal with this new problem, including groups like Neighbourhood Watch and a more persistent policing model.
Let’s hope vigilance among neighbours, and improved policing, will prevent us from bearing arms. Nothing good can come from that.
Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.