Rural crime is at ‘crisis levels’ in Alberta, says Foothills MP

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WATCH ABOVE: Conservative MP John Barlow is saying not enough is being done to protect rural residents in Alberta, citing a study from the Rural Crime Task Force. Michael King reports – Nov 26, 2018

The federal Conservatives say not enough is being done to protect Alberta farmers and ranchers from being targets of rural crime.

At a news conference on Monday, Foothills MP John Barlow released the findings of the Conservatives’ Rural Crime Task Force report.

READ MORE: New RCMP data-entry system aims to reduce rural crime in Alberta

The task force conducted town halls across the province, talking to thousands of rural Albertans. The findings were submitted to a parliamentary study on rural crime that is looking into Canada-wide crime rates in smaller towns.

Barlow said by talking to farmers and ranchers, the task force determined that rural crime is at “crisis levels.”

Alberta’s NDP government has also expressed concern about rural crime in the province. Earlier this year, it announced a plan for taking action to tackle the problem.

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In September, police reported that property crimes — excluding fraud, mischief and arson — fell 11 per cent between January and July in rural detachments, thanks in part to the RCMP’s Rural Crime Reduction Program, which was launched last winter.

On Monday, Barlow said those figures do not tell the whole story. He said that the drop in crime actually comes from a declining number of people reporting crimes.

READ MORE: ‘Crime is everywhere’: Rural victim fed up after face-to-face encounter with suspect

“Those numbers are misleading in the fact that so many people in the… communities aren’t reporting crimes anymore,” Barlow said. “The fact that they’ve been hit so many times, they know the RCMP may or may not respond.”

In February 2018, Edouard Maurice was charged with aggravated assault, pointing a firearm and careless use of a firearm when he fired warning shots at suspected thieves on his property in Okotoks.

Edouard Maurice, left, waves to supporters outside court with his wife Jessica, right, in Okotoks, Alta., Friday, March 9, 2018. Maurice faces three charges after police allege the rural homeowner confronted two people rummaging through his vehicles and shots were fired. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Maurice stood next to Barlow at Monday’s news conference and said many rural residents don’t trust the RCMP to quickly respond to calls.

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READ MORE: Applause in courtroom as charges dropped against Okotoks property owner in rural shooting

Maurice said this doubt leads more rural residents to take action on their own.

“Either you can chance calling the cops and hopefully they’ll show up, or you defend yourself,” Maurice said.

His charges were eventually dropped but he said his family’s sense of security will be permanently altered.

“There is no going back to normal life,” Maurice explained. “Daily life is not the same, [we’re] always watching what’s happening and who’s around. You just never get over it.”

Barlow also took aim at the federal Liberal government’s Bill C-71 on Monday, saying rural crime will not be solved with stricter gun laws.

READ MORE: Rural residents worried about crime and property rights: ‘Landowners are free prey’

“Most crime in Canada involves illegal guns smuggled into the country,” Barlow said. “Experts have pointed out that blanket gun bans will do nothing to prevent violent crime.”

Barlow said that if elected to form government, the federal Conservatives would repeal Bill C-71 and instead, focus on gun smuggling and gang violence.