Hundreds gather to tell Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, right, how rural crime has affected their lives.
Three hundred people from across the Lakeland went to share their stories about how rural crime has affected their lives at the town hall with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer at the St. Paul Recreation Centre on Tuesday night.
Dozens of speakers talked about their frustrations with the justice system and catch and release and how they are feeling less safe in their communities.
Schweitzer said the UCP has funding in this year’s budget to start to tackle these issues and have long-term creative strategies to limit crime levels.
But the message from Albertans is coming in loud and clear.
“I wish I could say that this is the first time I’ve heard these stories, but it’s in every rural community that we’ve gone to is that we hear similar stories of a breakdown in the justice system, people that feel vulnerable. So we’re going to be doing everything that we possibly can to make sure Albertans feel safe in their communities,” said Schweitzer to Lakeland Connect.
He said the UCP government will be taking concrete steps in the short-term and long-term to tackle the growing issue of rural crime, including setting aside funding in the provincial budget.
Schweitzer said the UCP will hire more prosecutors, dedicate more money to major law enforcement teams, and work closely with the Ministry of Health on drug addictions.
“Right now, we’ve got a shortage of prosecutors in Alberta. We’ve dedicated to hiring 50 new prosecutors in our province. That’s the campaign commitment we made and that’s what we’re dedicated to doing,” he said.
“On top of that, the Alberta law enforcement response team is dedicated to spend $50 million over four years to give additional monies for them. When you see the big drug boss and the guns coming off, that’s quite often the Alberta law enforcement response team working in collaboration with our local police. So we want to get that done for them and get additional tactical teams out into the field here in Alberta, as well as we made a big announcement on the treatment side as well.
“We put forward funding for 4000 new treatment beds, that’s on the health side. But the Justice Department’s working in collaboration with them to make sure that we can look creatively in the Justice system and get the addicts treatment that they need, so they stopped rounding through our court system.”
He added that the crowd in St. Paul was one of the largest town halls yet of the 20 the provincial government has conducted in recent weeks.
“We take that back to Edmonton every single time when we have these town halls and it increases our urgency to deal with this. And the ideas coming forward and these town halls are going to be new policy for Albertans. We already had the one dealing with the trespassing and illegal invasion of a farm. That’s led to new policy for Alberta. We’ve got many other things that we’re going to be announcing this fall that have come right out of these town halls that are we believe are going to make change on real crime.”
He added the government will look at raising restitution powers for victims of property crime.
“They’re not protecting the innocent – they’re protecting the guilty.”
“I’m disappointed in our government. They are not protecting the innocent – they’re protecting the guilty,” said an older speaker at the town hall to a round of applause.
“Our innocent people are losing millions of dollars off their property and I’m not happy with it. I am 72 years old and I’m afraid to see what’s going to happen to our future generation,” she said.
It was one of the many illustrations of frustration and disappointment voiced to the Justice Minister.
“What can we do right now so we don’t have to deal with this? The storm is coming. Someone’s going to get hurt. There’s no doubt about it. I hope it’s not me. Someone is going to be shot and it’s either going to be them or it’s going to be us, but people are pissed off enough now to start shooting first and then asking the RCMP to clean up the mess and we’re going to be the ones held accountable, not the ones stealing our s—,” said another speaker.
The idea of vigilante justice coming as a result of growing crime was heard by the Justice Minister.
“We do vigilante posses popping up across Alberta and that’s unacceptable from a justice standpoint that that’s the state of our affairs. Albertans should never feel that’s the only place they can be,” said Schweitzer.
“I’ve also asked my department to give Albertans clarity on what are reasonable steps to defend their property and also protect themselves.”
Cold Lake city councillor Bob Buckle commented on the cost to incarcerate.
“Reduce the cost of these inmates in jails…there are probably lots of creative ways out there to do that. I don’t know why they have to build expensive dormitories to put two years less a day criminals in there. I don’t know why they can’t be working out on a woodline,” he said.
“You’ll get pushback…telling you that’s unfair and that’s cruel and unusual and so on and so forth. But the reality is until you lower the cost putting inmates into incarceration, the judges are going to keep not doing that and releasing people back onto the streets and that’s what we see happening.”
Schweitzer said there could legislation by the end of the year to address some of these concerns.
Residents filled out a feedback form before the talk asking about crime reduction measures.