Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins tables private member's bill to toughen sentencing for criminals targeting rural areas

Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins, alongside Red Deer-Mountainview MP Earl Dreeshen, announces his new private member's bill, C-458, at a Markerville-area farm in Red Deer County on Saturday, June 15, 2019. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to make evidence that an offence directed at a person or property that was vulnerable because of their remoteness from emergency services an aggravating factor in sentencing. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins is determined to toughen the Criminal Code for criminals exploiting the vulnerability of citizens living in rural and remote areas.

On Saturday at a Red Deer County farm, he announced his new private member’s bill, C-458, alongside Red Deer-Mountainvew MP Earl Dreeshen who seconded the bill tabled in the House of Commons June 14.

“One of the things were heard loud and clear during the Rural Crime Task Force is there’s a revolving door and there doesn’t seem to be any consequences,” he said.

“The bill would amend the Criminal Code by making crime that happens in remote areas where they’re under served by police or emergency services an aggravating factor in sentencings…and hopefully increase their sentence and keep them off our streets and keep our communities safer for a longer period of time.”

The exact reading of Bill C-458 is to amend the Criminal Code, Paragraph 718.2(a) to add: “evidence that the offence was directed at a person or property that was vulnerable because of their remoteness from emergency medical or police services.”

The bill came as a response to a report released by the federal Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which had been tasked to examine rural crime through a motion put forward by Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs.

The motion was adopted, and testimonies from a number of witnesses, as well as 30-page Rural Crime Task Force report put together by rural Alberta MPs were part of the information the committee had to work with in creating their own report. Calkins said they were to report back about six months ago, but delayed putting it forward until late May.

When the committee’s report was released, however, he said it was “a watered-down, two-page report basically meant to schluff off the entire issue.”

As reported by Postmedia, less than three of the report’s 24 pages were on rural crime, which concluded with the listing of four components of “effective crime reduction measures.”

“It’s actually insulting,” said Calkins.

There is little time left in the current parliamentary session ahead of the 2019 federal election, meaning he and Dreeshen need to find someone wanting to bring the bill in front of the house, but if there is, as well as a willingness to unanimously adopt it next week, it could be passed within a week.

Calkins doesn’t count on support from opposition parties, however, and says if the bill doesn’t make it through this session, he’ll bring it forward in the next, should he be re-elected.

“It’s at least something,” he said. “There’s enough socio-economic issues in Alberta right now with the energy sector and other socio-economic factors, but rural crime is out of control and rampant in lots of rural parts of Alberta, and we’re going to fight for those people.”

Alberta Minister for Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen and Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, among a number of rural municipality leaders from the area, were also on hand and in support of the announcement.

On the provincial front, the United Conservative Party put together its own policing task force about a year ago, which was then incorporated into their election campaign. Now, Orr says, an advisory panel of five rural MLAs has been put together to advise Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer on what’s happening in the rural areas and how to deal with rural crime issues.

“The big challenge, in some ways, is going to be the justice side – the number of judges, how do we address the need to get cases prosecuted in a timely way? The other side is the policing side. How do we continue to work with the RCMP, with the municipalities on the funding model that will improve the delivery of policing services?” Orr said.

“I do think we’ve made a little progress on (rural crime) and part of that is a cooperative effort, some with the municipalities in the sense they have budgeted for additional policing and the other part is with the RCMP themselves,” he said. “They’ve strengthened the ASIRT (Alberta Serious Incident Response Team) which deals with  real specific issues…but the real challenge for them, of course, is they just don’t have the officers and there’s a big percentage of them that are on the list but aren’t available for active duty.”

The previous Alberta NDP government also implemented a rural crime strategy in February 2018. RCMP figures show it led to an 11 per cent drop in property crime in the first seven months compared to 2017, which was credited by those at the federal level, including Calkins and Stubbs, as making a difference.

Now, Orr says, a continuation of a three-pronged government approach is needed to move forward and address rural crime.

“We have to work together,” Orr said. “What’s really valuable about this (bill) is it shows cooperation between all three levels of government. We’re all working in the same direction, we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing and quite frankly we’re all here supporting it because it needs to be put forward.

“The reality is Parliament may expire before this bill goes through, but as Blaine said, following the election he’s prepared to put it forward again and I applaud him for doing it. This is a beginning step.”