LAKELAND – The province of Alberta addressed its challenges and successes in its ongoing efforts to tackle rural crime during a Jan. 24 rural media round table, which includes increasing the authority of Alberta Sheriffs in 2021.
Earlier this month, Alberta announced that the Sheriff Highway Patrol removed 1,471 impaired drivers from “provincial highways in its jurisdiction” in 2021. Then, since the expansion of sheriffs’ authorities, a total of “2,224 impaired drivers” were removed from highways.
The increase of authorities included enabling the Sheriff Highway Patrol to investigate impaired driving and other criminal offences.
During the roundtable discussion on Tuesday, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis, said that increasing the authority of sheriffs “means that the RCMP can keep more of its patrol units on the road and available to respond to urgent calls and other offenses.”
Alberta Police Service (APS) Update
Part of Ellis’ mandate includes working with the Minister of Justice and Municipal Affairs to launch an Alberta Police Service (APS). When asked for an update, Ellis said they are exploring “all the options that are available to us.”
He said this involves supplementing and alleviating pressures from the RCMP by taking on a regional approach to policing in Alberta. This includes working with law enforcement agencies and local municipalities.
Ellis was also asked where the money is going as a result of the increased policing costs to municipalities over the past three years if not for additional officers. For example, despite the additional policing costs, the number of officers patrolling the Tofield, Holden, and Riley region located east of Edmonton did not increase from six.
“We have been providing money to the RCMP and increasing that funding for the last several years,” said Ellis. “The problem is that the RCMP just do not have enough human beings to provide the contracted services,” which is not exclusive to Alberta, according to Ellis.
"This is the struggle” with contract policing with the RCMP across Canada, “and that’s why you have British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia looking at other options,” he said.
“The reality with our RCMP is that they’re struggling to meet the needs of Canadians when it comes to policing,” he said. “So, we’re trying to meet those needs and figure out what is best for all the communities.”
When asked how an APS would then meet the same challenges that the RCMP are facing, he said that “the government would be up to meeting those challenges.”
Catch and Release
On July 28, 2022, a group of residents met to discuss concerns relating to the increase of rural crime in the County of St. Paul. Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson was also present at the meeting.
Hanson told County residents that he believes that the problem lies more with the justice system. He said the same perpetrators, after getting caught, get released and then commit crimes again.
Hanson reiterated the same sentiment on a separate August 2022 Lakeland This Week report when asked about his thoughts on a provincial police service in Alberta.
“The problem that we're facing... is the revolving door in our justice system,” said Hanson then. “We have the same perpetrators committing crimes, (and) even if (the RCMP) arrest them - they're out the next day.”
He added, “I understand the frustration of folks and we can't really point the finger at just the RCMP, it has to be pointed at the justice system.”
Lakeland This Week asked Ellis during the roundtable discussion Tuesday, if he shares the same thoughts as Hanson expressed the previous year. Ellis criticized Bill C-75, stating “it’s really unfortunate there were some changes to federal legislation,” referring to C-75's amendments to bail provisions.
Included in the amendment is updating bail provisions, which include legislating a “principle of restraint” for police and courts, “to ensure that release at the earliest opportunity is favoured over detention, directed that bail conditions are reasonable, relevant to the offence and necessary to ensure public safety, and that sureties are imposed only when less onerous forms of release are inadequate,” according to the bill.
Ellis said Bill C-75 lowered the “threshold which would make it easier for people to be released on bail.”
“We’re fully aware of what Bill C-75 has done to kind of lower that bar, which is obviously concerning,” said Ellis. Lakeland This Week followed up in an email if there are any actions being taken in a provincial level to review C-75, but the Public Safety and Emergency Services were unable to respond prior to press deadline.