Based on the narrative coming out of rural Saskatchewan lately, you’d be forgiven for picturing it as a post-apocalyptic war zone.
The August 2016 murder of young Colton Boushie from the Red Pheasant First Nation, allegedly shot dead by a local white farmer, Gerald Stanley, who claims Boushie was trespassing in his yard,
highlighted poured industrial-strength bleach into the wound that is racial tension in Saskatchewan.
After Boushie died, the social media comments were more abhorrent than usual, if that’s possible. The outpouring of racism was astounding, with some condoning and even celebrating Boushie’s killing. Others lamented the fact that Stanley didn’t kill Boushie’s friends too, or just simply hurled hateful racial slurs that you can imagine, but I won’t repeat.
It wasn’t. If anything, they tipped backwards.
In fall of 2016, a couple of months after Boushie’s murder, a flurry of news stories reported that harvesting farmers in west central Saskatchewan were toting rifles on their combines.
My uncle has kept a rifle on his combine for decades, to defend against coyotes and other pests, but apparently these particular Farmers With Firearms were packing heat because they were afraid of being robbed, or worse, after a farmhand claimed he was threatened by three masked gunmen on a remote rural road.
More recently, a resolution tabled at the 2017 Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) convention ratcheted up racial tension in Saskatchewan even further.
Overwhelmingly supported by 93 per cent of its members, the resolution demanded SARM lobby our provincial and federal governments to relax criminal laws governing a person’s right to defend people and property.
In other words, 93 per cent of Saskatchewan’s rural representatives voted in favor of being able to shoot someone trying to steal a truck.
The RM of Kindersley, home of the armed harvesters, and located near both the masked-gunmen-in-the-middle-of-nowhere and the scene of Colton Boushie’s death, put forward the motion, as a response to what the RM’s deputy reeve described as “out of control” rural crime in the area.
“Crime is increasing so much, all over Saskatchewan,” echoed RM of Prince Albert Reeve Paul Rybka to Global Saskatoon. It’s getting worse, he said, thanks in part to drug use.
Further, “there’s been some fear from the rural people that they’re not getting adequate RCMP protection,” said SARM president Ray Orb.
You know, I’m hearing a whole lot of talk about an epidemic of rural crime here – and zero evidence.
That terrifying trio of masked gunmen stalking rural roads last fall?
There were never any arrests. In fact, it didn’t take long for residents, and the RCMP (according to one reliable source), to start questioning whether the whole thing was made up.
Another Kindersley area farmer disputed the armed-combine stories, saying the whole thing was just some kind of weird inside joke.
And six months prior to defending the motion to allow farmers to kill trespassers or would-be thieves on their property, SARM president Ray Orb told the Canadian Press that he really wasn’t hearing anything from scared rural residents, except for what he saw on the news.
As for “out of control” rising rural crime, nobody, including the RCMP, has ever provided any numbers to back that up. The only report I could find (though I may have missed others) quoting evidence was this one, which references data from 2005.
Which is strange, because up-to-date information on crime statistics, by region, is readily available from Stats Canada.
So, without further ado…
From 2011 to 2015, the overall number of Saskatchewan residents – municipal and rural – who were impacted by an incident of any crime went down from 14.1 per cent to 12.7 per cent.
Between 2011 and 2015 the cities of Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Yorkton and North Battleford all saw a decrease in incidents of crime. Prince Albert saw a marginal increase.
And rural property crime – the “out of control” kind that’s apparently driving some to want to shoot anything
that moves that appears to pose a threat to their property?
Yeah, not so much.
I ran a detailed report, by rural region (generally that means by RCMP detachment), of the number of “Total property crime violations”, which includes all types of break and enters, possession or trafficking in stolen property, theft of or from a vehicle, theft over and under $5000, fraud, all types of mischief, and arson.
The results don’t exactly overwhelm.
Northern Saskatchewan, sadly and unsurprisingly, is the outlier. The number of property crimes (in fact, all crime) is exponentially higher north of Meadow Lake and Prince Albert National Park, all the way to the northern border, than the rest of the province.
As for the rest of rural Saskatchewan, the amount of property crime between 2005 and 2015 was flat, or in some regions, even lower in 2015 than it was in 2005.
There are some other anomalies, but overall there’s nothing in the numbers that suggests a sudden scourge of rampant pillaging in any specific rural region of the Saskatchewan.
By rural locale, charting the number, or volume of property crimes proves a tangled mess.
In northern Saskatchewan, Pinehouse, Fond du Lac, Ile a la Crosse, Beauval and Deschambault Lake all had comparatively low rates of property-related incidents, but you have to consider the remoteness and low population of those areas. More on that later.
Heading down from the far north into central northwestern Saskatchewan, we see a similar, schizophrenic pattern (or non-pattern).
In central northeastern Saskatchewan, the RM of Prince Albert’s rate of incidents has spiked. However, again you need to consider population of the area, which extends south of the City of PA’s city limits to the South Saskatchewan River; it jumped 22% between 2006 and 2011, and anecdotally has grown that much again between 2011 and 2016.
Criss-crossing back across the province to west central Saskatchewan brings us to the rural areas around Kindersley, Rosetown and neighboring regions:
That light blue line that has gone way down since 2005?
Yeah, that’s the number of property crimes in and around Kindersley, where the deputy reeve laments they are “out of control”.
East central Saskatchewan reflects that same weird plummet in 2009 that existed in some regions of northern, northwest and west central Saskatchewan (La Ronge, Southend, Wollaston Lake, Tisdale, Pierceland, Shellbrook, Waskesiu, Turtleford, Warman). The only thing I can think of is 2009 was the year that government spending exploded, as did, briefly, the economy.
Beyond that you have a couple of outliers, but again, no steep upward curves.
And finally, down to southern Saskatchewan, where they should be celebrating their success in reducing property crime.
A hodgepodge of property crime rates, all over the province, with no apparent rhyme or reason, but certainly no spike to lead one to the conclusion that anarchy reigns in 93 per cent of rural Saskatchewan.
Next, we have the percentages of the population of each region that experienced property crime. This is what I was referring to earlier as important, because these percentages take into consideration the increase of Saskatchewan’s population.
Yes, much of that increase was centered on the cities, but certainly not all of it, nor was the resettlement – I bet the vast majority of you knows at least one person who left the city to build in or move to a rural subdivision or acreage.
FYI – these charts only go back to 2012, because of a change in the way this data was measured that year, when StatsCan started combining crime in town with that of the surrounding rural region.
With the exception of Pinehouse and Pelican Narrows, the percentage of the population in rural northern Saskatchewan who were victims of property crime is virtually identical in 2015 to what it was in 2012 – which is sad, because we’re talking 30, 40, 50, even up to almost 80 per cent of the population:
Same goes for central northeast Saskatchewan. In Cumberland House, far more people, compared to other areas nearby, were impacted by rural property crime (approximately 17 percent), but not really any more than were in 2012, following the same pattern as the rest of the region:
In northwest Saskatchewan, Loon Lake needs to take a look at what’s going on in its community, and Pierceland has seen a slow but steady increase from approximately nine to 12 per cent:
In west central Saskatchewan we again see a couple of outliers, but overall only 5 per cent or less of the vast majority of rural west central Saskatchewan were the victims of property crime in 2015.
In the Kindersley area, (remember, where the deputy reeve describes the crime situation as “out of control”), the needle has hardly moved – from just under 4 per cent of the population to just over 4 per cent.
Similar pattern in east central Saskatchewan, where under four per cent of the majority of the rural population fell victim to property crime in 2015:
Now, to southwest Saskatchewan. You’ll notice the vertical axis now only goes up to 5 per cent, as opposed to 100 per cent in northern Saskatchewan and 25 per cent in central northeast and northwest Saskatchewan.
Little bit higher in southeast Saskatchewan, thanks largely to Fort Qu’Appelle, but again, primarily under 4 per cent.
Finally, let’s have a look at property crime victims, by percentage of the population, overall in Saskatchewan:
A consistent decrease in rural property crime victimization, as a percentage of the population, as we move regionally from north Saskatchewan to south.
The majority of the province hovers around 5 per cent of the population, or less, victimized by property crime.
Meanwhile, 93 per cent of SARM members want to start shooting people.
What could possibly be driving that sentiment? (hashtag sarcasm)
Well, the FSIN was quick to slam the resolution as shocking and disgusting, though somewhat surprisingly they only point to the very real potential of rising violence as an outcome, but don’t mention the very real fuel it throws on Saskatchewan’s racial relations dumpster fire.
That must be very clearly implied, or stated elsewhere, however, because SARM president Ray Orb said the resolution was never about Saskatchewan’s indigenous people, and he was a “little saddened” by the FSIN being shocked and disgusted.
“Obviously, the First Nations people feel a bit threatened by the resolution, but I don’t believe they should be,” he said. “They should take some comfort that we need to work together, and they are working with us.”
There’s a lot of “they” and “us” going on in that statement, but whatever.
Also, if you acknowledge that one cultural group is “Obviously” going to feel threatened by your resolution, maybe that resolution should make you feel sad, not them.
The StatsCan data is substantiated by the U of S report Perceptions of Crime, Feelings of Safety, and Experiences of Victimization in Saskatchewan Jurisdictions Policed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The report is based on the researchers findings after polling rural residents by telephone in late 2013. The results are considered accurate ±3.7 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
“704 respondents who had lived in Saskatchewan for the past three years, most respondents perceived crime rates to have either remained the same (45.5%) or to have increased (43.7%) in their communities…” states the report’s findings.
“Perceptions of crime among respondents were not congruent with declining trends observed in official crime statistics.”
Here were some of the reports other findings, and IMO, they are stunning:
- 51 per cent of those same respondents figured there was less crime in their community compared to other communities;
- 79 per cent of respondents indicated they were satisfied with policing in Saskatchewan (respondents living in northern Saskatchewan were significantly more dissatisfied with policing than those living in other districts);
- 94 per cent felt safe in their communities;
- 97 per cent felt safe in their own homes after dark;
- 75 per cent felt safe when walking alone in their communities after dark;
- 50.6 per cent had not feared any crime in the past month;
- 49.4 per cent had feared at least one crime, but the majority of those – 31 per cent of feared identity theft over a property crime (28 per cent), and only 12.7 per cent had feared at least one violent crime.
- respondents who were female, Aboriginal, and/or lived on reserve reported more instances of fear in the past month than everyone else;
- “non-Aboriginal/non-visible minority respondents typically felt more safe in their own homes and when walking alone than Aboriginal respondents“;
- “respondents living on reserve typically felt less safe than respondents living in other locations (i.e., on an acreage or farm or in a hamlet, village, town, or city)”;
- “respondents who were Aboriginal, lived on reserve, or who were located in the North district had higher ratings of fear compared to those who were non-Aboriginal/non-visible minority; lived on an acreage or farm or in a hamlet, village, town, or city; or who lived in the Central district”.
Notable, because it’s not indigenous or northern groups – who clearly fear being the victims of crimes themselves, even moreso than non-indigenous groups to the south – calling for greater freedom to shoot first, ask questions later.
As for funding, according to Saskatchewan’s Public Accounts, smaller cities saw relatively flat funding from the provincial government, with the exception of Weyburn and Estevan, which both, somewhat inexplicably, saw a big spike in 2015, even though their municipal crime rates were some of the lowest in the province.
Of the larger cities, Saskatoon Police went from $3.5 million in 2011 to $5.5 million in 2015 in annual operating funds. Regina Police also saw a funding increase, though not as high as Saskatoon’s. Every other mid-sized city, including the City of Prince Albert, stayed fairly flat.
Between 2011 and 2014, provincial funding for the Saskatchewan RCMP – aka rural policing – went from $134 million to $165 million, but slowed to only $172 million by 2016.
One last point from the U of S paper I quoted above: 64.6 per cent of these respondents indicated that they did not report all of the crimes they experienced, or only reported some of the crimes they experienced, to the police.
People – you can’t keep this up and expect more or better police funding!
Fine, maybe there’s nothing the RCMP can do right that minute, or maybe they won’t get out to you in time to stop anything.
But your reports feed data, and data feeds policy – like how much money the government should give your local RCMP detachment, or whether another needs to be built.
So pick up the damn phone, not your gun.
Now that I’ve infuriated most of rural Saskatchewan, let me be clear – if you are genuinely fearful, I am genuinely empathetic. I really am. It would be terrifying to be legitimately scared of the potential of violent crime being committed in your home or yard, without the safeguard of law enforcement being only minutes away.
If there’s a genuine problem with property crime in your community – one that isn’t reflected by the firm numbers I’ve shared here, or that have been shared by other surveys and reports… find a solution you must.
If you think the 2015 property crime statistics aren’t reflective of the reality in rural Saskatchewan today, I would disagree with you, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough, as 2016 numbers should be released soon. I do respect your perspective, though.
But if you’re one of those people, and look no further than social media and/or the Comments section to find them, that overtly, or even deep down inside, think this is about all criminals being of First Nation’s background, therefore all people of First Nation’s background must be criminals and you should have the right to shoot any that come into your yard – give your head a shake. What is wrong with you?
Seriously, there’s something very wrong with you.
And when I say “deep down inside” I mean that – you don’t have to tell me, your partner, your friends, or even your pastor if you feel that way. But at least have the courage to confront that part of yourself and make it accountable for its beliefs.
Look at it this way: 0.9 per cent of the population of Saskatchewan over the age of 12 was charged with a property crime offence in 2015 – and that doesn’t include the number who were eventually cleared.
Even if you believe that every single one of that 0.9 per cent of the population is of indigenous background (which they’re not) – what does that prove, exactly, besides the fact that 99.1 per cent of the population of Saskatchewan, or 94.3 per cent of the indigenous population in Saskatchewan, isn’t trying to steal your quad?
In the meantime, while this nonsense gets sorted out, nobody gets to play some twisted version of God and decide whose life is worth taking, nevermind whether that life is worth more than property.
You don’t get to kill people, even people doing bad things, who aren’t trying to kill you first.
Even if you think there’s a chance that they might kill you, but at the moment are only actively messing with the contents of your shed so you can’t say for sure, you don’t get to kill people.
You just don’t.
One final thought before I let you go to start writing me hate mail – huge, huge props to the 7 per cent of SARM representatives who didn’t vote in favor of this motion.
Because, honestly, I don’t believe that 93 per cent of the hundreds of good Saskatchewan people in that room truly believed in the motion. Instead, I believe that at least some just didn’t want to stand out, even on secret ballot. Which is kind of pathetic, but I’ll take their cowardliness over their wholehearted support of that motion.
As for the 7 per cent, or handful of people who saw the motion for what it really was
, I tip my hat to you, if not for your convictions, for your courage to stand beside them.
For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
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