November 27, 2017 8:35 pm

Victims of rural crime speak out; Alberta Conservatives call it ‘an epidemic’

WATCH ABOVE: Dozens of victims of rural crime spoke at the Alberta legislature on Monday, to highlight an issue the UCP describes as an epidemic. Sarah Kraus explains.

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WARNING: Some of the photos in this story are graphic in nature and may be disturbing to some readers.

Dozens of victims of rural crime across Alberta came to the legislature on Monday as the United Conservative Party pushed for an emergency debate on the issue.

“What’s going on in rural Alberta on the crime side is basically an epidemic,” Official Opposition leader Jason Nixon said.

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“My constituents, and other constituents as well, are scared to be in their homes right now.

“This is a serious conversation, something we’ve been bringing to the house for a while now.”

Despite having the support of the Alberta Party, the UCP could not convince the NDP of the need for an emergency debate.

“Our government is making sure there are adequate police resources and court resources to deal with these issues,” Acting Justice Minister Marlin Schmidt said.

Speaker Bob Wanner said the UCP request didn’t meet the emergency criteria and it was shot down in front of a gallery full of rural Albertans who had come to emphasize just how widespread the problem is.

Below are their stories:

Brian Warman: Alix, Alta.

On Nov. 1, Brian Warman was viciously attacked in his own home in central Alberta by two intruders.

“It caught me off guard,” he said. “I was sitting in my big chair with my back towards the front door. They walked right into the house and started demanding cash and valuables.”

The thieves started attacking and Warman fought back before being overpowered. One of the intruders stole a machete he had displayed on the wall.

“Aimed for the top of my head and I sort of veered out of his way and he caught me by the shoulder and cut me open pretty badly.

“By this time I was already missing a couple toes off my foot from him swinging that machete before,” he said.

His ear also had to be reattached by a plastic surgeon.

Physical injuries aside, it’s the psychological damage Warman says is most painful.

“It’s taken away any comfort and safety I have in that home. Sixteen years I’ve lived in Alix and I’ve never felt the urge to lock myself in my own home. I felt pretty safe about the neighbourhood.”

Warman hopes everyone starts taking crime more seriously. He refuses to move back into his home until steel doors and window bars have been installed.

“I’d say lock your doors and start worrying about it because nobody is safe anymore.”

Rob Fehr: Alix, Alta.

Some of the people in the audience were from the central Alberta village of Alix, home to a little more than 800 people. The nearest RCMP detachment is about 20 minutes away.

“We have had a rash of criminal activity, not just specific to the village of Alix, but it is concerning,” he said. “You’re starting to see a little more aggressive crime in nature, not just the typical property crimes you used to see.”

In the last month or so, Mayor Rob Fehr says there was a violent home invasion, the local hotel was robbed twice, the gas station was rammed (injuring an employee), and RCMP fatally shot someone in a stolen car.

He thinks it’s important to have the different levels of government start talking about how to address the problem.

“I don’t know that there’s a real quick fix to this, but I think it’s worth having the dialogue.”

He said every time he talks to the RCMP, they suggest the same thing: “Don’t make it easy for these folks. Lock your doors, lock your vehicles. Don’t leave valuables out in plain view and if you have the means, get some type of security system.”

Linda O’Sullivan: Alix, Alta.

Linda O’Sullivan has lived in Alix for the last nine years.

“This is a great little town. Everybody is so happy together. We all take care of each other.”

But on multiple occasions recently, she’s been at work when her security alarms at home have gone off.

“People have been on top of our roof. We’ve had our boat stolen out of our yard. We’ve had tires stolen out of our yard,” she said. “It’s getting out of control.”

“We just want all this stuff to stop,” she said. “We’re sick and tired of it.”

Allan Erickson: Spruce View, Alta.

Allan Erickson lives near Spruce View and said over the summer, he started hearing about multiple break-ins, and then his own was targeted.

“Middle of the day on a nice, sunny, Sunday afternoon, they went through everything in the house. Took quite a few things. The RCMP were out there as quick as they could get there.”

Erickson said he had trouble sleeping that night. He went to work the next day and came home to find he’d been targeted once again.

“I’m a pretty firm believer that they came back to gather up other stuff that they didn’t take the first time.”

“It’s been a terrible experience for us,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

Not long after, someone stole one of his company’s truck and used it in a crime.

“What’s being done up to this point isn’t working,” he said.

Erickson came to Edmonton on Monday hoping to hear how the province plans on addressing the issue.

He believes having a more visible police force in rural communities would go a long way in stopping the crime. He also wants to see more serious consequences for criminals through the courts.

Mabel Hamilton: Innisfail, Alta.

Mabel Hamilton raises cattle in Innisfail and says lately, instead of talking to her neighbours about the weather, they’re talking about crime.

“We have had, in the last year, two home invasions, two trucks stolen and two attempted robberies where our dogs were able to scare the people off.”

In both instances where their trucks were stolen, On-Star was able to stop the vehicles.

After the home invasions, the Hamiltons had to re-key their entire property, including barns, sheds and garages.

“They took keys, they took money, they took passports,” she said.

The incidents have left Hamilton feeling violated.

“We’re ranchers. We’re home all the time basically. You just don’t expect people to come in the middle of the day, into your place of business. And to be so bold, that’s the thing,” she said. “It’s very frustrating. And you get suspicious of everybody – that’s not rural life. We’re not like that.”

She said the criminals need to know that they’re going to get more than a slap on the wrist for their actions.

“I came to see if the government actually understands the scope of the problem we have.”

She felt like she didn’t get any answers to her concerns in the legislature.

“You can’t just throw money at something. You actually have to follow through and find out what’s going wrong with the system.”

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