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Alberta Justice Minister tackling rural crime on a national front

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer says rural crime is being put on the national agenda.

The minister met with the federal and provincial justice ministers to talk about rural crime. Schweitzer is the co-chair of a working group aimed at creating a national strategy to combat rural crime. 

The group met in late-February and is looking into making changes to the Criminal Code. Schweitzer says they want to add a consideration during sentencing whether the property was targeted because it was rural and remote.

“What we’re seeing right now is people going after rural Albertans because of the fact that the police are far away. They know police are half an hour or an hour away and we want to make sure that factor is taken in. It’s one of the recommendations we’re bringing forward and trying to get a consensus to get that type of Criminal Code amendment made.”

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The group is also targeting methamphetamine importers. He says the rise of rural crime corresponds with the rise of the use of meth in Alberta.

“We’ve seen a 400 per cent increase in the use of meth and this drug is just devastating. It makes people more violent and aggressive. On top of that they are also more likely to go out and steal property in particular.”

Schweitzer is looking into creating a tactical unit focused primarily on preventing meth and opioids from entering the country.

“The precursors that are used to develop meth are being brought illegally into Canada and we need to cut that off.”

He says they are expanding drug treatment courts for people who plead guilty on drug-related charges. They will receive inpatient treatment and submit a weekly report to a judge while also doing community service. A similar program was announced in Lethbridge and Schweitzer wants to bring it to other mid-size cities in the province.

The national plan came after Schweitzer completed a tour where he called on Alberta residents to voice their concerns surrounding rural crime at town halls around the province. The provincial government announced new measures and initiatives to reduce rural crime. It included the development of the Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence (RAPID) Force which provides sheriffs and wildlife officers with tactical training to aid in 9-1-1 calls.

Schweitzer says they expect the RAPID Force to roll out in phases in different municipalities this fall. The province also announced a $50 million investment in hiring more law enforcement personnel over the next four years. The minister says they are going to equip communities with the proper police force they need.

“Drugs have no borders. Gangs will operate where they can and organized crime is everywhere so we have to give our police and law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on organized crime.”

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