Justice Minister and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer visited Fort Macleod on Tuesday evening as he continued a month-long tour of the province to hear from Albertans about rural crime.
Schweitzer was originally scheduled to visit just Lethbridge and Coaldale while in the area, but Livingstone-Macleod MLA Roger Reid requested that he stop in Fort Macleod after an incident on Sept. 2 when a group of protesters occupied a nearby turkey farm.
“That is a situation where they purposely trespassed onto a property to disrupt law-abiding Albertans that are doing ethical farming practice… at the highest standards,” Schweitzer said.
“We need to send a clear signal to individuals that want to trespass for their own agenda that that’s absolutely not going to be tolerated in our province.”
Schweitzer spent nearly two hours fielding questions and discussing the experiences of the roughly 40 people in attendance Tuesday.
Stasha Donahue, a resident of the Municipal District of Willow Creek, was one of those people.
“This summer, our house was invaded, we did have a robbery,” Donahue said. “We live in the country, south of Fort Macleod. It was rather eye-opening.
“I heard about this meeting and thought, ‘You know, I’d like to understand what the community perspectives are on crime and rural crime.'”
Schweitzer said hearing testimonies across the province has been enlightening, as he discovers similar issues that exist in all communities.
“Some of the stories are absolutely gut-wrenching,” he said.
“People feel as though they’ve been completely victimized time and time again — targeted.”
The connection between rural crime and the drug crisis was also a key topic on Tuesday.
“I think that’s a significant component,” Reid said. “A number of the folks that I’ve talked to that have experienced rural crime… the perpetrators were really looking for materials that they could sell quickly so they could feed their habit.”
Reid and Schweitzer emphasized the importance of provincial ministries working together to address the many facets of issues facing Albertans.
“People just don’t feel safe right now,” Schweitzer said.
“They want to make sure that their government officials — and me, as an elected official — hear that loud and clear; that our priorities reflect their reality.”
The minister also told those in attendance about the province’s desire to hire 50 more Crown prosecutors, to be split across Alberta in hopes of speeding up the judicial system.
While Schweitzer’s tour was scheduled to wrap up on Sept. 30, he says demand from other communities has his team looking at adding additional dates in October and potentially November.
Schweitzer will visit Airdrie and Drumheller later this week.