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Publication date : 2018-03-09

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NDP’s rural crime fighting plan gets mixed reviews


Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Todd Shean announces a seven-point plan to help reduce rural crime in the province, in Edmonton, on March 9, 2018. ED KAISER / POSTMEDIA


Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley said Friday the money will pay for 39 new RCMP officer positions focused on rural crime reduction, 40 civilian staff, 10 Crown prosecutors and new “bait” programs, including for farm equipment.  


It is in response to what some residents have described as a spike in rural property crime.


The issue has grown more heated since the acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley for the killing of Colten Boushie, with some rural residents suggesting it is legal to shoot someone to defend property.  


Lacombe County Reeve Paula Law welcomed news of the funding, but said Sunday she hopes it comes through “sooner than later” to help deal with the dramatic rise in property crimes plaguing her constituents.


“The rural way of life, where you left your keys in the vehicle or the neighbour wanted to stop in and borrow a tractor or a piece of equipment … it’s gone,” she said.


Law said that in meetings with Mounties from the five detachments that serve the central Alberta county, police said they are struggling to keep up. Lacombe and Red Deer County have committed to funding two new investigators for the Blackfalds detachment, but those positions have yet to be filled.


The reeve said they’ve also been pushing funding to rural crime watch groups, and holding information sessions about “environmental design” changes to make properties less vulnerable to would-be thieves. 


At the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties convention this spring, Law said the county plans to bring forward a resolution to lobby the provincial and federal governments for further support in tackling property crime, including sentencing reforms that would impose tougher penalties on repeat perpetrators.


Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association president James Pickard said Sunday members are happy the government is taking action to address prosecutor shortages, but added it will continue to be difficult to recruit and retain rural prosecutors because of high caseloads and a government salary freeze. 


Around 20 prosecutors have left rural offices in the last 12 months, the association said, and while many of those positions have since been filled, it’s usually with less experienced people.  


However, there are concerns adding more police officers to do more investigations “will inevitably mean more files and more prosecutions,” potentially further burdening rural prosecutors. 


“We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out in terms of these new prosecutors. Will they be able to lessen the load on the regional Crowns in a notable way, or is it just addressing the new files being opened by the police with these new crime reduction units?”  


United Conservative Party house leader Jason Nixon, who lives in Sundre, said Friday he’s pleased the government is taking action on rural crime months after his party called for an emergency debate on the subject. 


“The announcement is a start but not enough,” he said. 


“I’m concerned the government only appears to think of this as a money issue. I think that is a product of the fact they’re not going out and talking to our communities.”


The “No. 1” thing the province can do to lessen the burden carried by local detachments is to improve the system for backfilling positions for officers on leave, he said. 

He was also critical of the government’s “triage” approach to cases.


“No matter how much money and capacity we put into the system, if our criminal justice system won’t take property crime seriously and continues to put these people back into our system without dealing with the issue that had them there in the first place, this is going to keep going on forever,” he said.