On November 6, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer released the Alberta government’s plan to combat rural crime during a press conference in Wetaskiwin. The announcement follows a series of 18 town hall meetings in rural Alberta communities over the preceding weeks.

Figures from Statistics Canada show a significantly higher crime rate in rural Alberta than in urban centres, statistics that Minister Schweitzer believes are low. During the press conference he stated that one of the learnings during the rural crime tour was that many rural residents have ceased reporting thefts.

Highlights of the proposed changes follow:

A new Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence Force (RAPID Force) will expand the roles and authorities of 400 peace officers in the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch and the traffic arm of the Alberta Sheriffs. Training and related planning is underway, the goal being to have the first of these officers available to assist the RCMP by the fall of 2020.

There are changes proposed to the Occupiers’ Liability Act. A criminal trespasser would have no right of civil action against a law-abiding property owner who is defending their property and families against trespassers. This provision would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. Fines for trespassing would increase 5-fold, and corporations that help or direct trespassers would face fines up to $200,000.

The Petty Trespass Act and the Animal Health Act would be revised to create offences and penalties for people who enter agricultural land and operations without authorization or encourage others to do so. This proposal is in response to a recent protest by animal activists at a turkey farm near Fort Macleod.

The Scrap Metal Dealers and Recyclers Identification Act was assented to on April 29, 2012 but not proclaimed until November 5, 2019. The legislation requires scrap metal dealers and recyclers to obtain identification from sellers and to record all transactions. Part of the intent of the Act is to increase the safety, security and reliability of electrical installations by reducing the incidence of copper theft.

Community impact statements and additional support for victims are other aspects of the new plan. The Restitution Recoveries Program will help victims collect outstanding payments on restitution orders by giving government the authority to use enforcement measures against offenders, such as garnishing wages or seizing and selling property, as needed.