Sylvan Lake and area residents expressed their frustration about the rise in rural crime to the Justice Minister at a town hall meeting.
Justice Minister and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer was in Sylvan Lake Oct. 17 for a Town Hall meeting about the rural crime problem in the province. Schweitzer was joined by local MLA and Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen.
The meeting was part of province-wide tour Minister Schweitzer is taking to discuss the crime problem with both municipalities and residents.
The frustrations voiced during the Thursday night meeting at the Sylvan Lake Legion were not new ones.
“I wish I could say this is the first time I’m hearing this, but every meeting we’ve had I’ve heard the same stories,” Schweitzer said.
Residents told the minister they don’t feel safe in their homes, and don’t have a clear understanding of what “necessary force” is when defending their property and family.
One resident shared he is spending thousands of dollars on security for his farm.
“We have spent $30,000 on security on my farm… and still don’t feel safe,” the resident said. “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.”
Schweitzer says one way the Province is looking to combat this issue is by increasing rural policing.
His department will look at working with municipalities on policing costs, and with the RCMP on potentially ramping up officers over a period of time.
He said they are also looking at expanding what peace officers and sheriffs can do under provincial law.
“They are writing rules for downtown Toronto that don’t work for rural Alberta. We are looking at what we can do at a provincial level to help make Albertans feel safe again,” Schweitzer said.
Sheriff and peace officers can operate under municipal and provincial laws, but cannot act under the Criminal Code.
According to Schweitzer, one way the Province is looking to make an impact is by writing new pieces of legislation. One example of this is the new changes legislation Alberta’s Petty Trespass Act.
The Petty Trespass Act will increase penalties to $10,000 for a first time offender and $25,000 for a second offence with a possibility of six months of jail time.
This comes after the animal rights protest which occurred at a turkey farm near Lethbridge in September.
While residents appeared to be happy with some changes suggested by the justice minister, many still wanted to know what will be done about the revolving door that has become the Canadian justice system.
“Why can’t we keep them in jail? Why can’t we have a similar model to California’s three strikes and you’re out rule?” one resident asked.
Another resident wanted to know why it seemed like the judges were soft on the criminals who appear before them.
“I think the judges should be elected and not appointed. That way if they aren’t doing their job they are out of there,” another resident suggested, to the applause of the gathered crowd.
Schweitzer says the ministry is committed to hiring 75 new prosecutors for Alberta to help with case loads.
He says they are currently working on hiring 25 prosecutors which were left unfilled by the previous government.
However, he says the total process will take time as there aren’t 75 prosecutors in Alberta right now.
“I won’t say too much on the former government… but they didn’t take action soon enough and things went from bad to worse,” said Schweitzer.
In the courts Schweitzer says he plans to bring in community impact statements as a form of evidence.
The Criminal Code does allow these types of statements, similar to a victim impact statement, and the Province has a bill from 2015 awaiting approval to bring this form of evidence to the courts.
A community impact statement will allow the presiding judge to know the impact a criminal’s activity has had on the community.
“We can’t approach it the same way because it’s not working,” said Schweitzer.
“We will do everything we can to make people feel safe again.”
Schweitzer began his tour in September, but overwhelming demand extended the provincial tour into October.