It took the tragic, 2016 shooting of 22-year-old Colten Boushie on a Biggar, Sask.-area farm to bring the issue of rural crime and a lack of law enforcement resources to the forefront.
In February of this year, Gerald Stanley was acquitted of second degree murder in a case that saw a group of young adults enter his farmyard either seeking help with a flat tire or allegedly attempting to steal property. While public discourse on the case focused on racial tensions between Indigenous and rural agricultural communities, the incident represents the worst-case scenario for what can happen when strangers enter private, rural properties unannounced or uninvited. Rural residents are frustrated with what they see as a lack of protection from both law enforcement agencies and the judicial system.
Thus, a series of town halls held across the country – including five hosted by Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire in the Westman region – are instrumental to any effective movement towards decreasing the anxiety of farm and small-town residents. They have had an opportunity to express their concerns and make suggestions in how to get better protection and protect themselves from what seems to be an uptick in criminal behavior outside of the country’s major centers.
The results of the meetings – which were held in Pilot Mound, Virden, Killarney, Melita and Souris through the first two weeks of November – were compiled and formatted into a set of 13 recommendations for submission to the federal Public Safety Committee in Ottawa. These recommendations covered a variety of issues, from Royal Canadian Mounted Police recruitment and staffing to crime prevention programming and stiffer Criminal Code penalties.
According to Maguire, many of the concerns and suggestions brought forward across the country have been similar. Of particular note are concerns with the Criminal Code and its sentencing framework for crimes occurring on a more frequent basis in rural parts of the country; incidents such as break, enter and theft.
All of it seems to flow to the same conclusion; there is a perception that law enforcement services do not effectively cover agricultural communities, which make up a majority of the land-area on the Prairies.
Therefore, it is imperative that the proposed study by the Public Safety Committee – which is supposed to incorporate these recommendations – comes to fruition. There is currently no deadline for that to happen.
Should these town halls not derive some sort of improvements to rural policing, this is all just another case of politicians paying lip service after a tragic incident has incited a national conversation.
If there is no follow through from the federal government on this fundamental safety issue for rural Canadians, not only may there be more Colten Boushies, but vigilante justice will become the norm, creating a new Wild West.