Crime isn’t just a city problem. Generally, when people think of crime on the Prairies, they think of urban crime in Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon.
But rural crime is a real problem, and it is scary for those who are victim to it, because the police response times in getting out to a farm are much longer than in the city. And there aren’t as many police officers in rural areas that are available to respond to calls. Special RCMP resources, like the Emergency Response Team, who respond to high-risk situations, are brought in from larger centres where they’re based, which can take hours.
Farms at night can be creepy. I was a city kid, but my mom grew up on a farm outside of Regina in the 1950s and 60s, and hated it, especially if she was home alone, because she said strangers would sometimes come onto the property at night, looking for gas, wanting to use the phone or ask directions. What if they had more nefarious intentions?
Less eyes on rural properties It’s easy to see why people living on rural properties, who are more isolated, with neighbours quite a distance away, would feel more vulnerable to crime.
No trespassing Recently, both Saskatchewan and Manitoba have been cracking down on trespassing to help people living on rural properties feel more at ease. In Saskatchewan, hunters and snowmobilers now must ask for permission when crossing through farmland. And Manitoba passed a law making it easier to easier to prosecute people for trespassing on large properties, like farms.
Breaking Bad on the Prairies
Drugs and organized crime are a reality outside of the big cities. A quick scan of RCMP news releases from Manitoba and Saskatchewan over the last few years will reveal incidents where people were arrested for trafficking and having links to organized crimes in small rural communities. I found incidents in:
- Onion Lake, SK
- Waldheim, SK
- Osler, SK
- RM of Glenside, SK
- Hanley, SK
- Portage La Prairie, MB
- Westman, MB
- Oxford House, MB
Drugs involved included cocaine, methamphetamine, Fentanyl, GHB, Xanax, Oxycodone and LSD.
Drugs lead to property crimes in rural areas. People steal because they need money for drugs.
Economic hard times motivate criminal behaviour, according to a 2005 federal government study. When the oil and gas industry started to decline, as a recent example, property crime went up in and around rural communities that were hubs for this industry, some RCMP officers told me anecdotally. There is no evidence that illicit drug use in oil and gas industry is any higher than in the general population, as there is too small of a data pool for researchers to make this conclusion. [Here’s one study I looked at from 2017 before marijuana was legalized, called Alcohol and Drug Use in Alberta’s Oil and Gas Industry that says “too few oil and gas workers completed the survey to be able to report how often they used marijuana. Although marijuana and hashish use was commonly reported by Alberta workers who used illicit drugs, reported rates of use of other illicit drugs (i.e., cocaine, hallucinogens, amphetamines, and opiates) were too low to report.”]
Property crime has been trending downwards. Saskatchewan saw an eight per cent decrease in rural property crime from 2017 to 2021, according to RCMP. Property crime in rural Manitoba has also been on the decline. However, with recent inflation coupled with the pandemic, it will be interesting to see if these crime rates go up again.
An increase in violence. While property crime is down, in Saskatchewan, there’s been an increase in violent firearms offences in rural communities, from 175 in 2015 to 258 in 2019.
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There’s also been a rise in drug overdoses and deaths in rural Saskatchewan, with the highest number recorded in the last 10 years coming in 2020. RCMP have been involved in public education to get people in rural areas to recognize what an overdose looks like and how to respond. In the Saskatchewan’s government’s recent throne speech, an enforcement-based response to rural crime was promised. As such, the province will be funding what will be called the Saskatchewan Trafficking Response Team, a 41-member unit, made up of both municipal police and RCMP. The team will be focused on the cracking down on drugs and firearms, as well as human trafficking. I know I wondered about the human trafficking piece too, and looked into it in a past issue of The Flatlander. The province is also creating a Warrant Enforcement and Suppression Team, targeting people deemed to be dangerous who have outstanding warrants.
Manitoba also invested in crime reduction enforcement support teams to the tune of $1.9 million.
Rural crime watch groups help reduce crime. A newly formed Saskatchewan Rural Crime Watch Association was created last year with a $5,000 grant from the Saskatchewan government. About 29 municipalities have signed onto the association, each paying a $50 membership fee.
Crime Watch volunteers observe, record, and report suspicious vehicles and/or activities to the local RCMP detachment, or call 911 in an emergency. Crime watch groups are usually effective at reducing crime.
Rural policing is about to get more expensive
The RCMP will be getting a pay raise after its relatively new union, the National Police Federation, created in 2019, negotiated an increase for its members backdated to April, 2017. Salaries for constables — which make up most of the RCMP forces — will raise to $106,576 as of April 1, 2022 from $86,110 in 2016.
The RCMP will get a 1.75 per cent pay increase for each year of the six-year contract, and a market adjustment valued at 11.53 per cent to address wage differences between the Mounties and other police services.
Municipal governments, who contract policing from the RCMP, are on the hook to pay for most of this salary increase, even though they weren’t at the negotiation table. The agreement was reached after discussions between the union and the Federal government.
- Cities with a population over 15,000 pay 90 per cent of the RCMP bill. While the federal government pays 10 per cent.
- Communities with a population under 15,000 pick up 70 per cent of the policing tab while the feds pay 30 per cent.
Size matters. The cost of the RCMP also depends on the size of a community’s detachment. Sometimes, a community will pay for extra officers. For instance, the town of La Ronge, in Saskatchewan, has its regular contract with the RCMP for its detachment, and it has another contract for three additional officers to help fight crime. The pay raise for the RCMP means La Ronge’s policing contract will go up 16 per cent.
Here is what the annual policing increase will be for a few municipalities:
- Lumsden, SK (1,800 people) – $28,000
- Meadow Lake, SK (5,300 people) – $500,000
- Selkirk, MB (10,200 people) – $800,000
- Portage La Prairie, MB (13,300 people) – $800,000
- Swift Current, SK (16,600 people) – $1 million
- North Battleford, SK (13,900 people) – $1.1 million
- Yorkton, SK (16,300 people) – $1.4 million
This will have an impact on people’s property taxes.
- North Battleford in Saskatchewan is considering a 5.11 per cent tax increase this year.
- And residents of the City of Selkirk in Manitoba may see a tax increase of $101 per average household this year.
An impact on services Other municipalities are considering decreasing other services or foregoing certain capital expenses to cover the RCMP pay raise. (Sometimes communities will transfer part of its operating budget over to its capital budget).
The federal government should pay for the RCMP’s retroactive salary increase, say organizations like the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. However, so far the feds have been mum on whether or not they will do this.
Saskatchewan has been exploring the possibility of a provincial police force. Alberta has been looking at the same option but hasn’t found the idea popular amongst the municipal governments. It’s also been observed that a new provincial police force would cost Albertan taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars more each year, but only result in a four per cent increase in the number of police on the ground.
The Manitoba Liberals campaigned on the idea of a provincial police force in the 2019 provincial election, but the idea didn’t help them win any votes, as they only won three seats in the legislature.
There are no easy solutions when it comes to reducing rural crime. Policing is an important, but costly, part of the answer, whether it’s the RCMP or a provincial police force that are the ones responding to emergency calls.
It’s best to keep your doors locked and not keep the keys in your vehicles. RCMP recommend recording or taking pictures of the serial numbers on your tools, firearms, and electronics, because it allows them to return stolen property to the rightful owners. One of the other things police recommend is crime prevention through environmental design—this can be as simple as installing motion-detected lights on a property or having security cameras.
Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed
- A recent tweet of Manitoba MLA John Reyes got the attention of TMZ, the Washington Post and inspired a number of memes.
- The Winnipeg Humane Society is taking part in the Betty White Challenge and are asking people to make a minimum donation of $5 to honour the late actress.
- Some entrepreneurs in Winnipeg are trying to make ice cycling popular.
- The Biebs needs to move over and make room for the Wiebs. You might have seen the Tim Hortons collaboration with pop superstar Justin Bieber, which introduced three new Timbit flavours called ‘Tim Biebs.’ Well, Valley Bakery in Winkler, decided to do a Mennonite version called ‘Tim Wiebs.’ Wiebe is a common Mennonite name.
- A pop-up ski library moving around Winnipeg allows people to borrow cross country skis and enjoy the city’s parks.
Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed
- A man was finally charged in relation to the repeated vandalism of a Regina donut shop.
- An ice castle was built on Echo Lake.
- People in other parts of Canada have been hitting up their relatives in Saskatchewan to mail them COVID-19 rapid tests, which are harder to get in other parts of the country.
- Some Manitobans have been wondering why Saskatchewan doesn’t have the same COVID-19 restrictions they do.
- SGI is recommending people clear the snow from their roofs, which is something I’ve never done, so I started watching videos of people on YouTube using snow rakes. I didn’t know this was a thing. Using a snow rake looks like it is a lot more exhausting and backbreaking than shovelling the driveway.
Photo of the week
Re: Last week’s issue “A little-known industry that releases carbon bombs into air”
A reader asked me about the process Lambert Peat Moss will have to complete to get permission from the Saskatchewan government to begin mining near La Ronge, Saskatchewan. An environmental impact statement must be reviewed by the Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment Review Panel, who will make technical review comments. The impact statement and the review comments are then posted for public review. From there, the Minister of Environment will look at all the feedback and then decide from there if the mining can go ahead. A frequently asked questions guide about the La Ronge mining project can be found here.
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