WHEREAS there has been a proliferation of crime in rural Alberta over the past several years; and
WHEREAS citizens of rural Alberta are extremely concerned for their personal safety due to escalating levels and severity of property crime; and
WHEREAS the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and other police services lack the required resources to respond to and investigate reported rural crimes; and
WHEREAS Alberta’s overburdened court system results in charges laid against perpetrators of rural crime being dismissed; and
WHEREAS residents and businesses of rural Alberta are becoming increasingly frustrated with the shortcomings of our criminal justice system;
THEREFORE, BE lT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) request that the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta develop and implement strategies and initiatives to prevent and combat rural crime, and punish those convicted of committing rural crime in a manner that will maximize deterrence;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the RMA, through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, request the Government of Canada to continue with its review of the criminal justice system and sentencing reforms in a way that gets repeat offenders off the street for longer periods of time.
Rural crime is on the rise in Alberta. This statement is supported by the crime statistics that are kept by every major police agency in the province.
The reasons for this increase are suspected to be a downturn in our economy and the increased use of illegal drugs. The reality is that every rural resident has either had a crime committed against them ortheir property or can refer to a neighbour that has experienced it. What used to be a rare occurrence is now commonplace in rural areas.
While vulnerable individuals are being targeted by criminals- who have identified flaws both in thecriminal justice system and in the capacity of police departments to respond to- they are unable to defend themselves without the risk of facing heavier penalties for protecting their home and families. Law-abiding residents have their hands tied.
Lacombe/Wetaskiwin Member of Parliament, Blaine Calkins recently hosted a series of town hall meetings with residents to discuss rural crime. All of these meetings were fully attended and participants voiced deep concern about both the frequency and increasing severity of rural crime. The full proceedings of these meetings will be presented to Parliament in the future, but the sheer number of attendees and the common themes in the views expressed all pointed to a serious problem with rural crime.
Residents are taking steps that are offered to them. This is evidenced by the resurgence of Rural Crime Watch organizations and Citizens on Patrol groups in most communities as a possible way for residents to deal with this problem. ln addition, many rural municipalities have implemented programs like Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) to assist their residents.
These actions by citizens are not likely to have much of an effect unless the criminal justice system in Canada takes this problem seriously and deals with offenders in a much more serious and meaningful way. Conversations with police agencies indicate that repeat offenders are committing much of this crime and they are increasingly becoming more concerned with the ability of the system to keep these offenders incarcerated.
Rural Albertans need the other levels of government to stop letting increasingly dangerous and violent offenders off with a “slap on the wrist”. Harsher penalties are needed, especially for criminals who have been proven, repeat offenders, while also giving them the tools they need to reform and rehabilitate from addictions that leads them to this lifestyle. ln addition, the Government of Canada needs to give property owners the ability to protect their home, their families, and their assets in a suitable manner, without the risk of receiving a prison sentence for assault (while the criminal gets away with little or no punishment at all).
Regardless of the reasons for this increase in rural crime, the fact remains that many rural residents do not feel safe in their homes as a result. This is an unacceptable situation in Canada, and we call for both the governments of Alberta and Canada to address this problem. ln 2017, the Government of Canada announced that it was undertaking a broad examination of Canada’s criminal justice system to ensure that it is just, compassionate and fair, while promoting a safe, peaceful and prosperous Canadian society.
Together with our MPs, MLAs, RMA, police officers, and fellow municipalities we can make our voices heard and take every opportunity to lead to a true change of the judicial system that protects the victims while penalizing (and reforming) the criminals.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Justice and Solicitor General
While Alberta posted one of the largest decreases in violent crime of any Canadian province or territory in 2016, property crime rates, particularly those in rural communities, have remained problematic. Several rural communities have property crime rates that are the highest they have been during the past five years. In other rural areas, property crime rates have been consistently above the overall provincial average and are not decreasing.
The Government of Alberta recognized the need to take action on rural crime, and committed $10 million to address rural crime issues through a seven-point action plan developed in consultation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This plan includes an $8 million investment in 39 new officers, 40 civilian staff, and $2 million to hire additional Crown prosecutors. It specifically focuses on crime reduction, enhanced intelligence, shifting some routine tasks to civilians, sharing information to help police better identify and catch prolific offenders, enhancing technology, and public education and engagement.
In March 2018, the Government of Alberta implemented a Rural Crime Action Plan intended to reduce rural crime by better focusing resources in rural areas and prioritizing a proactive and strategic approach to addressing rural crime. The Action Plan included the following seven points:
The Action Plan was supported by a $10 million investment from the Government of Alberta.
In September 2018, the Government of Alberta and Royal Canadian Mounted Police jointly announced an 11% decrease in property crimes in rural Alberta detachments between January and July 2018 – a reduction that is at least partly linked by the Government of Alberta to the initiatives in the Action Plan.
In February 2019, the Government of Alberta announced the next phase of the Action Plan, called “Project Lock-Up,” which will focus on collaboration between police and other enforcement organizations such as community peace officer, sheriffs, fish and wildlife officers, and others to increase patrols in “hard hit” rural areas, enhance victim support and communication, provide residents of “hard hit” areas with trace pens to increase the likelihood of recovering stolen property, and further enhance investigative response in high priority areas.
In spring 2019, the newly-elected UCP government announced a rural crime strategy based on their 2018 report titled A Safer Alberta: United Conservative Strategy to Tackle the Rural Crime Crisis. In fall 2019, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer undertook a province-wide townhall tour to gather information to support the further development of a plan. Additionally, in November 2019, the Government of Alberta announced several more initiatives to address rural crime, including the expansion of the role of approximately 400 peace officers to respond to a wider range of calls and better support the RCMP, a strengthening of property rights through changes to the Occupiers’ Liability Act, an increase in enforcement and preventative measures related to metal theft, and the allowance of “community impact statements” in trials related to rural crime.
RMA is pleased with the Action Plan and the early positive indicators of its effectiveness in decreasing rural crime, as well as the initiatives taken to date by the UCP government, and will advocate for the Government of Alberta to make a long-term funding commitment to sustain or expand the initial Action Plan.
One area of potential concern related to provincial actions relates to the development of a new police costing model that will require municipalities that currently have policing provided under the Provincial Police Services Agreement to contribute directly to a portion of frontline policing costs. RMA will be closely monitor the roll-out of the model to ensure that it enhances policing levels and does not instead require municipalities to reduce other public safety initiatives to cover new policing costs.
RMA also forwarded this resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) as per the second operative clause. FCM reviewed the resolution and categorized it as “issues not within municipal and/or federal jurisdiction,” meaning it is not within the scope of FCM’s mandate, mainly because a request to advocate for “sentencing reforms in a way that gets repeat offenders off the street for longer periods of time” is not a specific municipal issue, although it would indirectly support municipalities by helping to address rural crime. RMA is disappointed with this response but will continue to work with FCM to share the rural Alberta perspective on issues related to crime and justice.
RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted in Part, and will continue to advocate on this issue at the provincial level and to the FCM.