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Justice minister has rural crime in sights

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, who is also solicitor general, held a town hall on rural crime Wednesday at the Claresholm town office.

Alberta’s new sheriff is determined to be tough on rural crime.

Kaycee Madu, who moved into the portfolios of justice and solicitor general after serving as municipal affairs minister, held a town hall meeting Wednesday.

“This is a major issue for us and we must do everything we can to resolve it,” Madu said.

About 40 people turned out at the Claresholm town office, including Livingstone-Macleod MLA Roger Reid, Foothills MP John Barlow, Fort Macleod Mayor Brent Feyter and MD of Willow Creek Reeve Maryanne Sandberg and other elected officials.

Madu said the government has acted on rural crime by forming the new RAPID response teams and introducing legislation.

The province is also studying a transition to a provincial police force from the RCMP.

Madu has also met with Crown prosecutors and judges, directing them to improve the justice system.

A next step is to introduce the Right to Know Act, which will make available information about crimes so citizens can better inform themselves of what is happening in their neighbourhoods.

“We did all of this because of the issues we heard from you,” Madu told the municipal leaders and citizens in the audience.

Madu said as justice minister and solicitor general his role is to make sure all Albertans have the same level of service from police, whether they live in urban or rural settings.

“The time for real action is now,” Madu said.

After a brief presentation Madu opened the meeting to questions and comments from the public,

Madu heard there is more crime in rural Alberta than statistics indicate because people don’t report problems for fear or retaliation from criminals.

Municipal officials offered opposition to plans to create a provincial police force to replace the RCMP.

Mayors and reeves cited satisfaction with the job the RCMP is doing, along with skepticism about Madu’s claims a provincial police force will not add costs to the taxpayer.

“I have always said this is not about the RCMP,” Madu said. “This is about making sure we have the right model for policing in this province.”

Madu said the goal is to get more “boots on the ground” — front line police officers — in place in rural communities.

Madu is confident that if Alberta proceeds with a new provincial police force, it will not add costs and that it will provide better service.

Madu said Alberta is as capable of running its own police force as Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, if a study that is under way shows a provincial police force will be more costly than contracting the RCMP, Madu said he will not proceed with it.

An Alberta provincial police force would recruit and train people to serve in their home communities, providing a continuity that the RCMP does not as it moves officers every five years, on average.

Alberta police officers would receive the same level of training, and would be guided by local or regional police commissions that would set local policing priorities.

The Alberta force, Madu said, would have the latest and best technology at its disposal, and would utilize mental health and social workers when responding to certain situations.

Madu acknowledged the RCMP is “a great Canadian institution” and that people have an emotional attachment to the force.

Madu added, however, that if there were no problems Alberta would not be considering creating its own police force.

Fort Macleod Citizens on Patrol president Bill Doyle was in favour of retaining the RCMP’s services, instead focusing on the “revolving door” of the justice system that lightly penalizes offenders and puts them right back on the street.

Madu agreed repeat offenders are a problem, which Alberta has attempted to address in part by providing funding for up to 50 new Crown prosecutors and pushing the federal government for changes to the Criminal Code.

“I do not want criminals being let in and out of our criminal justice system to come back and terrorize our communities,” Madu said.

Madu said it is a problem that Alberta has so little control of the RCMP, which is a federal institution, when it comes to staffing, wages and other decisions.

“That whole system is not working for me as justice minister,” Madu said.

In response to questions from municipal leaders, Madu said he had the issue of creating a provincial police force left out of the fall referendum.

“I wanted the time to investigate,” Madu said. “I need to be satisfied that I have heard from all Albertans who are going to be impacted.”

The study could be completed by the end of this year. The transition, if it happenes, would likely take two to three years.

During the open house, Madu heard from people who support retaining the RCMP, as well as those who favour a provincial police force.

The justice minister also heard from a Piikani Nation women concerned that so little action has happened on missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Municipal leaders made it clear they want answers on the cost of creating an Alberta police force against continuing to contract the RCMP.

The elected officials stressed they do not want to download added costs for policing to their taxpayers.

“My commitment to you is that before we move forward . . . that we have been able to answer all the questions,” Madu said.