A frustration with Canada’s judicial system and a lack of regular Royal Canadian Mounted Police coverage in some rural areas were among the top concerns brought forward in a recent series of town halls discussing rural crime.
Hosted by Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire, meetings on the issue were held in Pilot Mound, Virden, Killarney, Melita and Souris, Man. through the first part of November. Maguire released a set of 13 recommendations based on information collected from those meetings last week. The proposals were submitted to the Parliamentary Public Safety Committee, which is studying the status of rural crime and law enforcement with intentions of improving crime prevention and reducing the number of incidents occurring outside of major centers.
“A lot of comments were specifically targeted at repeat offenders and how people were constantly going in and out of the court system,” Maguire told the Westman Journal when asked about the concerns that were repeated from meeting to meeting. “The second was that people want to see an RCMP presence in their community. Many participants feel that having a constant presence in the community helps deter crime from happening in the first place as well as builds stronger ties between the public and RCMP.”
The town halls hosted a mix of residents from both rural and urban municipalities. Incidents of break, entry and theft were the most mentioned examples of criminal activity occurring both on the farm and in town.
“We had a lot of people who had volunteered in the past for organizations such as Citizens on Patrol or Rural Crime Watch and they were able to share their experiences and provide tangible examples of what had worked in the past,” Maguire said.
“We also had current and former law enforcement officials at most of the town halls. Their knowledge and expertise was very much welcomed. They were able to discuss the issue of rural crime from the law enforcement perspective and to highlight the unique challenges that come with the job.”
The information compiled from the meetings was submitted to the Public Safety Committee, which is currently collecting data from across the country to develop a report for Members of Parliament. Maguire said no date has been scheduled for the release of that report.
Among the recommendations developed from the town halls held in the Brandon-Souris Riding were:
- speeding up RCMP staff allocations;
- the challenges for municipalities to cover the costs of RCMP investigations;
- the presence of RCMP members in rural communities;
- considering the recruitment of local residents to assume RCMP posts in their home towns;
- the need for RCMP members to accompany individuals to hospitals and corrections centers when their time could be used more effectively;
- an RCMP rural crime task force similar to an initiative established in Alberta;
- increasing the use of technology such as mobile devices for both RCMP members and the public;
- expanding the powers of sheriffs, municipal bylaw and other peace officers;
- tax credits for RCMP Auxiliary and Rural Crime Watch volunteers;
- enhancements in Canada’s Criminal Code to create greater deterrents to criminal activity;
- financial assistance, such as tax credits, to help property owners off-set the costs of security systems;
- developing and maintaining youth programming, addiction services and support networks as a means of crime prevention;
- and a permanent RCMP Criminal Code advisory board that would advise on and suggest recommendations to reforming the code, providing frontline law enforcement officers a line of communication with parliamentarians and Public Safety Canada.
“The first one I would like to see implemented is to speed up RCMP staff allocations and to start recruiting new cadets from the areas that are chronically short,” Maguire said.
“I don’t want to see any detachments lose a posting permanently just because it has been vacant. I am incredibly proud of the work that our RCMP officers are doing and I don’t want to see them burnt out. I want to ensure they have the necessary resources to do their job and I want to see a special emphasis on filling vacant postings in rural communities.”
Maguire said many of the concerns drawn from the meetings held in the Westman region were similar to those brought up in constituencies across Canada. Leading recommendations submitted to the Public Safety Committee from Alberta jurisdictions, for example, included amending the criminal code to stiffen sentences for crimes committed in rural areas.
“From the speeches in the House (of Commons) on this issue to the questions posed at committee, I think there will be some overlap on recommendations,” Maguire said.
Another recommendation – more for residents than for the Public Safety Committee – came from RCMP members who suggest the public should report all incidents of crime, regardless of its seriousness. Suspects targeting rural areas with similar crimes establish patterns of behavior that help investigators link crimes and find perpetrators.
“Another important part of combatting rural crime is focusing on addictions services and ensuring there are programs available to turn around people’s lives,” said Maguire. “If we can stop someone from turning to a lifetime of criminal activity by early intervention, that will not only decrease the overall crime rate, but I would argue it would be a good use of resources.”