A Liberal-dominated parliamentary committee’s report on rural crime is “an insult to all Canadians,” Conservative MPs say in a dissenting statement that decries waits of hours or even days for police to respond to calls in remote areas.
New Democrat MPs on the House of Commons public-safety committee also want stronger federal action on crime in Canada’s hinterlands, saying the “incomplete” report fails to take into account the difficulties witnesses described in the committee’s hearings.
The committee undertook the study following adoption of a motion put forward in the House by Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs. The resulting majority report, which landed last week in the Commons, acknowledges that crime in rural areas is a growing concern to people who live outside Canada’s cities.
During hearings last year, witnesses told the MPs of break-ins, thefts and assaults, including violence towards women, as well as dishearteningly long waits for police to turn up.
The resulting report, which is three pages long, encourages provinces to spend more on emergency-response services and dispatch centres, and says the RCMP should look for ways to partner with other police agencies.
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Effective crime-fighting requires adequate police resources, partnerships with the community, robust victim support and a justice system that inspires public confidence, the report concludes.
That falls far short for Conservative members of the committee, who filed their own report calling for tougher steps against repeat offenders, greater use of electronic monitoring of people on release and clearer self-defence laws.
Evidence pointed to “critical gaps” including insufficient resources at RCMP detachments, an absence of emergency dispatch services in rural and remote areas, and a lack of help for victims of physical and sexual violence, the Conservative report says.
“Criminals understand that police response times in rural areas can be slow, neighbours can be miles away and rural regions are easy prey.”
The New Democrats make their own suggestions, including better training of young Mounties assigned to rural communities and universal access to 911 emergency service everywhere in Canada in both official languages.
“We think that the federal government should play an active role and help the provinces and territories to ensure security in rural areas,” the NDP says.
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Communities have started to form their own rural crime watches and conduct volunteer patrols in the absence of a police presence, the Conservatives note. “Some rural victims, who took steps to defend themselves and their property, faced more serious police response and prosecutions than the criminals who attacked them.”
The committee recognizes the feelings of helplessness of the witnesses and their desire to take matters into their own hands, the majority report says. “However, the committee discourages this kind of intervention by citizens.”
While community watch groups should be encouraged, they should not be an alternative to professionally trained police officers, the report stresses.
The committee suggests that federal hands are tied, given that policing is primarily the responsibility of provincial governments. The provinces and municipalities that enter into policing arrangements with the RCMP set the budgets and priorities of contract detachments in consultation with the Mounties, the majority report adds.
Conservative members, meanwhile, are urging fellow rural MPs to put political allegiances aside, speak up and ensure all Canadians “have access to emergency services and police protection for their communities.”