Good afternoon, everyone.Mahsi cho
I'd like to start by thanking the committee for taking the time to study the issue of crime in rural and remote areas and for asking me to be a witness today. My name is Georgina Jolibois, and I'm the member of Parliament for the Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River riding.
Before becoming an MP, I served as the mayor of La Loche, Saskatchewan, for 12 years, and I spent 10 years working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police F Division's aboriginal advisory committee.
For most of my life, I've lived in Saskatchewan's north, and in both a professional and personal capacity, I have seen and experienced the impacts of the policing system in rural northern Saskatchewan. To give you some perspective, my riding is as big as Poland but with a much smaller population. That population is largely first nations and Métis, and our communities are spread across large areas of the north.
In many of the communities in my riding, there are only a handful of RCMP officers or local police officers who are meant to serve the community and the surrounding area. These officers are stretched to their limits quite often, as multiple calls each day will require them to evaluate events with incomplete information, prioritize their responses, and make difficult decisions based on the resources they have available to them.
I sympathize with the victims of crime in our communities, knowing that the economy of police work leaves them behind. When we hear the statistics that are being discussed about crime in rural Canada, they seem to paint an inaccurate picture of imagined chaos and lawlessness in our small towns. That sentiment empowers vigilance in the name of self-defence. These statistics highlight isolation under the guise of abandonment, and they create division when there is so much effort for the sake of unity.
We shouldn't take these feelings for granted and dismiss them as inaccurate. After all, that is the lived experience of many people in rural Canada. Our response, then, needs to reconcile that feeling of abandonment with the reality of progress that's being made by our communities. It's our duty to do what we can to bridge that gap between the feelings of our constituents and the efforts of our municipalities, band councils, the police, and the RCMP.
I do remain optimistic that the discussions that this committee is engaging in will lead to a better future for both law enforcement and the people who live in rural and northern communities.
It goes without saying, I hope, that it would be wrong for us to conclude that the RCMP and police forces are alone to blame for both the real and perceived failures of the policing system in rural and northern communities.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Commissioner Brenda Lucki of the RCMP, who told me about several of the initiatives that the RCMP is taking to better serve rural and northern areas. The Commissioner told me how important it is to make sure that their rural detachments and northern detachments are fully staffed, and that staff levels in rural and northern Canada are prioritized over urban settings. Furthermore, she stressed that part of her mandate is to review the process of filling detachments across the country, and that finding a balance between urban and rural detachments is something the commissioner is actively working toward.
One of the major concerns with regard to staffing is the relief structure that the RCMP has in place. I've been told that, given the limited staff in rural and northern communities, it can be difficult on a detachment and community if a single officer or staffer were to take a leave or take a vacation. I would encourage the committee to examine this relief system further.
I've also spoken with a number of officers and community officials, who are doing amazing work with the resources they have available to them. In the community of Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan, for example, local RCMP officers have developed a unique strategy to limit bootlegging within the community. In other communities, law enforcement has developed profile management programs that identify past offenders and monitor their activities to caution them against reoffending. I've also seen a number of advancements in the use of information technology to the benefit of law enforcement.
In Saskatchewan, many rural and northern officers communicate using an app on their phones to monitor suspicious behaviour reported by civilians to position themselves in the event of an emergency.
There are a number of programs like these across the province and the country. I applaud the efforts of law enforcement in developing them and thank the communities for adopting them. Projects like these rely on community support, because at the end of the day the RCMP alone cannot manage a crime reduction program; it can only be one part of its future.
I would encourage the members of this committee to reach out to their local RCMP, find out what sorts of projects they're working on and ask them directly what has been successful. In many cases, you'll find that the people working on the ground will be able to provide better solutions than those who are not.
Speaking of community, I'd also like to talk about how municipalities and bands are using their resources to address crime in their community. We all know that what motivates a person to commit a crime is a complex network of decisions and conditions that have led them to a certain point in their life. Communities are aware of that fact. In addition to social programs, they are actively investing in crime reduction and crime management programs across Canada. Municipalities invest in after-school programs for vulnerable youth, anti-gang strategies, drug and alcohol advocacy, and support systems for people when they get out of prison. The same is true of rural communities.
With the rise of incidents in rural Saskatchewan, communities in my riding have begun investing more of their limited resources in community safety and peacekeeping initiatives. For example, the community of Pelican Narrows has successfully put in place a peacekeepers program through which trained individuals, who are not police, will monitor their community for incidents and respond where appropriate. Peacekeeping officers take a six-week training program, at a cost to the community, and make their community safer. Programs like these are successful and I would encourage the committee to study them further.
I would like to point out that community safety and peacekeeping programs do come at a cost to the community that funds them. Municipalities and first nations' communities operate on severely limited budgets already, and when forced to shift their focus towards security, the community will sacrifice much-needed social programming to compensate.
I would further advise the members of this committee that investments in policing and community safety programs are one part of a crime reduction strategy that involves social programming. A government cannot effectively invest in security without also investing in community.
To conclude, I'd like to emphasize to the committee that the relationship between police and the community they serve is vital to the success of any safety or policing initiative. The word “rural” does not mean “alone”, and “remote” does not mean “isolated”. Communities whose members listen to one another and who understand each other's backgrounds and ways of life lead to more peaceful communities. I would caution the committee in being too reactive to stories they see in the media and advise that the priorities of one group not be placed over the needs of another. Having safe communities is in everyone's best interest. The way we choose to build that community and enforce that value of togetherness will determine how successful the results of any initiatives in rural crime will be.
Ms. Jolibois, thank you for being here.
Just so you know, the Alberta MPs from the rural areas of my province began this study about 18 months ago, and it was related to the huge increase we've seen in rural crime throughout our province. It was not specific to anything more than urban centre criminals branching out and preying on those in the country, and that's where it started for us.
I met with my officials from the Blood reserve. They speak about the first nations policing program. I was alarmed to hear that it was a 30-year-old program, or older, that hasn't changed in any way. It should be considered as an emergency service, a required service, in a lot of the first nations communities.
I would be interested to know your views on first nations policing. I know from my discussions with law enforcement officials from across the country that they suggest the RCMP may need to consider reworking how they do some of their work. I know that many first nations rely on the RCMP to augment the needs they have on reserve.
I would like to know from you whether first nations policing has the tools to succeed. What do we need to do to ensure that we can better support first nations policing?
You come from northern Saskatchewan and I come from northern Quebec. Although our communities are different, they are both northern. Every time we talk, I realize the extent to which we are experiencing similar problems and situations. Although Canada is a vast country, I think we share many of the same concerns.
One of the issues specific to rural areas is the fact that police officers live in the community. Everyone knows them, knows who they are, knows their children and knows where they live. As a result, when incidents involving police officers disturb public opinion, it becomes extremely difficult to deal with. For example, in my area, in La Sarre, a year ago, the police had to go after someone in a hit and run. He was in crisis and threatened the police with a knife. They shot him and he unfortunately died. This event prompted a shock wave in the community.
How can we develop programs that inspire the trust of communities in their police forces and foster co-operation with the provincial police, the RCMP or indigenous police forces? What can we do to ensure that communities co-operate effectively with police forces?
First, Ms. Jolibois, I don't think anyone here is challenging equal rights. No one disputes the fact that all Canadians, without distinction, are entitled to the same protection. I think this notion is clear to everyone.
That being said, the study focuses on rural crime. Although one of your comments is about police services, the nature of the policing, it is important to understand that policing must meet a specific need, apart, of course, from the distance between the various municipalities. Your constituency is as big as Poland. A number of members of Parliament represent constituencies as large as a European country. That is not disputed either.
We must be able to identify the particularity, the characteristic that defines rural crime. Clearly, if that type of crime is not so different from crime in the suburbs or cities, it means that the policing is not managed in the same way.
We have received comments about how different rural areas are from urban areas. Are you able to explain this distinction to us or to clarify the characteristics of what is known as rural crime?
I'm not sure if it's Mrs. or Ms. Jolibois, but we'll just leave it at that: colleague.
Your points are very well taken here. Having spent 35 years in aboriginal policing, from day one until the end, I feel what you're saying. It takes a special police officer to have good liaison with the community that he's policing, especially an aboriginal community. It takes a person who needs to want to work and interact with that community. As well, it takes outside resources, other than police officers, to make things work.
Someone just talked about resources, and I'm going to throw some figures at you.
If you look at the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, their policing numbers are 333 per 100,000; 411 per 100,000; and 353 per 100,000 population. Therefore, there are a lot of police officers per the resources. Then you go to the rest of Canada, including Saskatchewan, and we're all sitting at between about 175 to 200 police officers per 100,000 population. This is the situation that you are talking about, getting people out to the rural areas, the remote rural areas, and the remote areas that require going through to Regina to get a police officer.
It's totally relevant when you look at those numbers, extremely high numbers, 411 to 100,000 in the Northwest Territories, paid for by federal funding. If you look at those numbers that are paid by federal funding, they're very high. Then you look at where they're paid for by the provincial governments, and they're all, in some cases, half of what the federal government is supplying.
If you look at the crime stats over the last year, Northwest Territory, Yukon and Nunavut went up 1% and 2%, whereas if you look at most of the provinces, they went up anywhere from, on average, 5% to 6% with the lower number of police officers per 100,000 population, so it's a very clear picture.
Thank you very much, Ms. Jolibois, for your presentation.
In any study of rural crime, I think it's natural that we discuss approaches to dealing with rural crime, and you have put some ideas on the table. I want to ask you this, however, because you're from Saskatchewan.
In the latter days of his term as premier, Brad Wall formed a caucus committee to study matters relating to this issue, matters relating to rural crime in Saskatchewan. They were tasked with making recommendations.
The recommendations they came back with are classic tough-on-crime approaches—for example, stronger penalties for young offenders and an increase in license plate recognition systems.
This differed dramatically from what the caucus committee heard from, for example, the Federation of Indigenous Sovereign Nations, which suggested, for example, that the way to deal with rural crime is to put in place community justice programs.
You focused a little bit on that in your testimony today, but to be more specific, the federation was talking about the expansion of anti-gang crime prevention programs for youth. Where you have seen such programs put into place in Saskatchewan, can you talk about your thoughts on them and how effective they have been in mitigating the chance for young people to turn to crime, and offer any thoughts on those matters?
The objective is to discuss sanctions against Russia, defence and security support for Ukraine, NATO in the context of Russian aggression, reforms in domestic politics in Ukraine, and support for democracy in the 2019 elected cycle.
Well, one part is possibly within the mandate of this committee. The rest is really foreign affairs and defence.
Can I just simply acknowledge receipt? Members will say that they will either join the defence committee or the foreign affairs committee or make private arrangements. Is that fine?
Some hon. members: Yes.
The Chair: Thank you, colleagues, for your indulgence.
I see that we are now being joined by the RCMP. I really don't need to suspend, do I?
We have, in the flesh, Assistant Commissioner Byron Boucher. Not in the flesh, we have Assistant Commissioner John Ferguson, and Superintendent Peter Tewfik, officer in charge of crime reduction strategy. I hope that I pronounced Officer Tewfik's name correctly.
With that, Monsieur Boucher, are you going to lead off?
Yes, I will. Thank you.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee. Thank you for inviting the RCMP to speak to you today about motion 167 regarding rural crime in Canada.
In the RCMP, my particular responsibility is here in Ottawa as the assistant commissioner in charge of contract and aboriginal policing. My compatriots here are Assistant Commissioner John Ferguson in K Division, Alberta, as criminal operations officer for the province, and Peter Tewfik, officer in charge of crime reduction strategies. They'll be able to provide you with information and answers to questions as you deliberate this motion.
The RCMP is Canada's national police force, providing police services under contract to all provinces and territories, with the exceptions of Ontario and Quebec, as well as some 150 municipalities across the country. These services are provided through the police services agreements, which see the costs of the RCMP services split between the provincial or municipal governments and the federal government.
The RCMP also provides policing services to over 600 indigenous communities across Canada as well as federal policing services for all of Canada. Contract policing allows for consistent quality of police service across Canada. The level of policing services provided in each province and territory rests ultimately with the provincial and territorial governments, as do the objectives, priorities and goals for policing in each of those jurisdictions. The RCMP is the service provider.
In this context, it's important to understand that each jurisdiction can develop and pursue individual, customized local initiatives to address issues such as rural crime. Given the geographic scope of Canada, much of the territory under RCMP jurisdiction is remote or rural, and many of the communities it serves are isolated.
Policing in rural or isolated communities can pose a number of complexities. The RCMP is aware of concerns regarding public safety and crime rates in rural areas and works closely with the provinces and territories to address the needs of those communities.
The safety of our communities is a priority, and as such, the RCMP works together with local leaders to identify challenges and develop viable solutions to promote and uphold community safety. For example, the RCMP holds town hall meetings to engage rural community leaders and residents to discuss safety challenges and possible solutions. In addition, the RCMP continues to collaborate with communities and government stakeholders in support of youth and to address social issues leading or contributing to crime. Specifically, the RCMP implements crime prevention initiatives in an effort to reduce youth involvement in crime.
A great deal of effort has gone towards creating partnerships between the RCMP and nationwide organizations such as Crime Stoppers, as well as local organizations such as the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association.
Further, the RCMP continues to implement programs to support regular members in their crime prevention efforts. For example, significant efforts have been undertaken to develop and implement revised auxiliary policing programs. Auxiliaries are unarmed, specially trained volunteers whose primary purpose is to participate in community policing services, crime prevention and public safety activities. At this time, the RCMP is closely working with all of its auxiliary program coordinators across the country to implement their visions of the program.
Our reserve program also allows the RCMP to hire former police officers to temporarily address member vacancies and provide mentoring to our new younger members. Reservists have the powers, duties and responsibilities of regular members when they are called up for duty. The RCMP reserve program is a desirable option to address rural crime, providing much-needed resources to the organization to support community policing priorities.
The RCMP remains committed to working with leaders in rural communities where it provides policing services, helping to identify the root causes and factors behind the increase in rural crime as well as to ensure crime prevention issues are effective and meaningful. In this context, each jurisdiction can develop and pursue individual and customized initiatives to address their distinct challenges and issues.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I look forward to answering your questions.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee.
First of all, thank you for inviting me and Superintendent Tewfik to speak to you today about motion M-167.
The RCMP in Alberta have implemented a very comprehensive crime reduction strategy as the foundational basis for the delivery of policing services to the people of Alberta.
Based on an intelligence-led policing model, the crime reduction strategy deploys a variety of initiatives designed to proactively target the small percentage of individuals who are causing our communities the most harm. This means promoting a collaborative approach with municipal, provincial and federal partners, as well as citizens, community groups, health partners and enforcement partners.
We have also established dedicated crime-reduction units, made up of experienced members at the regional and detachment levels.
We are investing heavily in intelligence gathering and analysis. This includes specialized intelligence coordinators who develop actionable snapshots of the criminal landscape to intelligence analysts embedded within our crime reduction units, who then analyze massive amounts of data and provide information that leads to arrest.
Our initiatives also include implementing new technologies that help increase analytical power and reduce the administrative burden for front-line officers. These technologies and administrative advancements provide more time for our members to dig deeper in their investigations and engage with communities they serve.
Finally, our initiatives include engaging directly with Albertans and citizen-led community groups to find ways to work together to keep neighbourhoods safe and raise awareness on what citizens can do to contribute to our communities' safety.
Midway through our first year of implementation, our data indicates our policing approach is making a difference. From January to September of this year, property crimes such as possession of stolen property, break and enters, auto theft and property thefts are down 9% compared to the same period last year. If we just look at the rural detachments in Alberta, these types of property crimes are down 11%.
Our strategy's impact becomes clearer when we look at the month of September this year and compare it to the month of September last year. This past September, these types of crimes in Alberta's rural detachments had decreased 27% compared to the same month last year.
What does this look like in real terms in Alberta communities? It means that this year, as of the end of September, 880 fewer cars have been reported stolen, 567 fewer homes have been broken into, and 2,938 fewer thefts have taken place throughout the province.
Our regional crime reduction units, a key component of our crime reduction strategy, have proven successful in targeting the individuals who hurt our communities the most. These four crime reduction units alone have made over 600 proactive arrests, representing 1,900 new charges stemming from these arrests. On average, at the time of the arrest, these individuals have three new charges brought against them. These are the small percentage of individuals who are responsible for most of the crime in Alberta. Our crime reduction units are committed to identifying and apprehending these targets.
We understand that statistics have a tendency to fluctuate. However, with support from all three levels of government, our enforcement partners, citizen-led community groups, and Albertans as a whole, we are confident that our crime reduction strategy is working and will continue to work over the long term.
Thank you very much.
What we're talking about in terms of breaking the cycle or addressing the root causes of crime really comes down to offender management. Offender management for habitual offenders throughout Alberta is a priority for all of our detachments to carry.
I can tell you that the RCMP partnered recently with the Edmonton Police Service and a number of social service agencies in a project out of northeast Edmonton called the integrated offender management initiative. That pilot is actually being extended to Drayton Valley, where we're going to be working on a regional management model. Again, it's designed to prioritize offenders who have a potential to get out of the offending cycle and to assist them in connecting with the social services they require or health agencies that they might require, such as for addictions, in order to break that cycle.
It's a collaborative approach with police, social agencies, and not-for-profit groups to address some of the root causes of crime. It is a program that is running throughout all of Alberta. I would say it's not working as effectively as we would like throughout the entirety of the province; however, we're working on making a more robust management structure in order to improve service delivery.
Thank you for being here, gentlemen. This is an important issue for us in the Conservative Party. A number of our party members are from Alberta and are very concerned about the situation.
Mr. Boucher, you painted the bigger picture. Mr. Ferguson, you provided some figures. In particular, you mentioned that a program has been in place for one year to collect new data and that it seems to be quite effective.
The committee has three meetings to review the situation. We therefore want to have the clearest possible answers from you.
People often tend to blame the RCMP. However, I don't think you automatically deserve this blame; everyone must do their part.
Do you think it's possible to handle the situation on the ground in Alberta right now? Will the measures put in place address major problems? Clearly, there will always be problems, but will the tools you have put in place make it possible to handle the most serious situations over the next 6 to 12 months?
I will go through this in a couple of stages.
The first initiative I will talk about is our enhanced intelligence capacity. We have criminal intelligence coordinators who liaise with our enforcement partners, as well as our detachment, to develop information that we use for special operations and to guide our patrols. We distribute criminal intelligence on a dashboard to our district officers at present, and I'm working on building a capacity to share those with community partners and our other law enforcement partners in the province.
We also have criminal intelligence analysts who directly support the district crime reduction units and provide them with information that helps guide targeted patrols and the people they target as priority or prolific offenders. This obviously varies from area to area within the province.
I have another initiative, which I'll call our apprehension initiative. We've already mentioned our crime reduction teams. There, the province is broken up into four distinct areas, and each area has a unit that's dedicated to crime reduction, targeting repeat offenders in that area by using our intelligence to identify those people and arrest them. We've already made reference to their having made 632 arrests since the units were implemented as a whole and having laid over 1,900 charges.
We're also looking at targeted auto theft, where we're targeting prolific auto thieves and undertaking specialized projects to identify those people and link them to larger theft rings around auto theft.
For suppression, we have increased patrol as a result of another project we have going, which I mentioned, the call-back unit, as well as the PROS data centre. Those two projects are designed to relieve the administrative burden for a lot of the members who are currently working, so that they have more time to spend on the road rather than being in the office. As a result, they're more available for strategic patrols in the field, which helps suppress crime.
The police force for Abitibi—Témiscamingue is the Sûreté du Québec. I have a number of police friends from that region. They told me that no one was rushing to apply for jobs in rural areas. When the police officers in training leave the École nationale de police du Québec in Nicolet, most of the ones from Abitibi manage to find a position in the region. Even if it is not always in the town that they want, they manage to return to their region quite easily.
As a result, our police officers may be young and less experienced, but they are familiar with the surroundings. They already know the side roads that people tend to use when they are drunk. They already know the people who are in bad company. They are sort of aware of the crime in the area where they are sent to work.
Does the RCMP have the same problem, that positions in rural, northern or remote communities tend not to be filled quickly, so that new, inexperienced officers are sent to those regions? Do the officers who are sent to rural communities tend to come from those same regions, or are they unfortunately people who are not familiar with the communities or the dynamics of those regions at all, sometimes even people who come from another province?
I could start by responding to that. Assistant Commissioner Ferguson might want to add something from an Alberta perspective.
When we sign on with the RCMP, we agree to go anywhere. Many of our new police officers who go to these remote communities are very junior in service. They have the benefit most times of having somebody else; they're not there by themselves. They go in when there are already other police officers in place, so there's a bit of a transition that takes place.
We also have what I would call the “reserve cadre”. Right now in northern Canada, in places such as Nunavut, we are sending in reserve officers. Those are officers who have retired from the RCMP, signed back on to be a reserve member, and may go and fill in, in a particular community, for anywhere up to three or four weeks, wherever we have shortages. They bring with them a lot of experience. They could have anywhere from 30 to 35 years of policing experience, and everybody benefits from that. Obviously, the ties to the communities assist greatly as well.
However, yes, you're absolutely right that in many cases we have a very young workforce. We are seeing a lot of these communities with new, younger police officers. They're also limited-duration postings because of their remoteness. We see a lot of transition out of there.
Thank you. I can address that a little bit.
In terms of our results, the comparison we're looking at is five years of data within Alberta. That's an apples-to-apples comparison when we look at historical patterns within the province. If we started to try to compare Alberta to other provinces, I don't think that that would necessarily be an equal comparison. There might be other factors that need to be considered in terms of what's going on.
We're comparing the data that we're looking at to our historical data in the same time frame, so I feel like that makes the trends that we're seeing demonstrate that some of our strategies are working.
In addition to that, I can tell you that our clearance rate, which is our ability to identify the person responsible for a crime, is also going up. Simply put, one aspect of our strategy is focusing on the people causing the most harm to our communities. Once again, not only are we arresting those people, but on average we have three new charges that are generated with each arrest. This means we're on the right kind of offenders, because we're generating more charges from each individual arrest. I think that proves it's an effective strategy.
For me, it's about collaboration with our community partners, our citizen-led groups, as well as with law enforcement partners, that helps make this an effective strategy.
I'll go back. I know those numbers. I'm just curious to know whether there's any movement within the RCMP to consider.... I'm not talking money; I'm talking about the deployment of people. Is there any movement within the RCMP? If there isn't, maybe there needs to be an opportunity to do that.
I want to applaud the two gentlemen, Assistant Commissioner Ferguson and the crime reduction officer. I applaud the efforts that are being made in Alberta. It's a response to a growing issue. As you've said, it has been growing over the last five years or so. We know, and it's not anecdotal—I think there's clear evidence to suggest this—that many of the crimes committed in rural Canada, certainly in rural Alberta, have been due to urban criminals moving out to the country because of their thought that there will be fewer enforcement opportunities and therefore less opportunity to get caught.
I applaud the efforts. I specifically want to point out that the trial run for your crime reduction strategy that you implemented in Alberta—which is fledgling, but you need to be complimented on it—came out of the Red Deer rural detachment and some of the surrounding detachments. I want to applaud both of you for leading that charge. It is having a significant impact on the crime rates that were reported there.
I'm curious to know, in your thoughts, whether there are plans to roll that out to other jurisdictions within Alberta that you're responsible for. Are there any thoughts with your colleagues from other western provinces and eastern provinces that also have the same issue in terms of the same sort of strategy in dealing with their issues?
In our discussions today, the point about data has come up, and I think it's important. This comes right from Statistics Canada. They've compiled a number of facts and figures relating to criminality in Canada, as is their job.
I think the crime severity index is important for the committee to take note of, Mr. Chair, and I'm glad to supply the report. The crime severity index measures the volume of crime and the relative seriousness of the crime. In this index, for example, more weight is given to a murder as compared with a bicycle theft. A lot of criminologists have said that this measure could be more useful than the actual crime rate. We can look at this and at how it impacts particular provinces that are of concern to the committee.
In Alberta, for example, over a 10-year period of 2006 to 2016, there was a 12% decrease in crime severity. In Manitoba from 2006 to 2016, there was a 27% decrease in crime severity. In Saskatchewan from 2006 to 2016, there was a 13% decrease in crime severity.
I raise this because at the outset, when Mr. Tewfik and Mr. Ferguson were making their presentations, they said that they've seen a decrease in rates of crime in particular areas. I think Alberta was mentioned specifically. I think we weigh all these factors and we get to a conclusion that yes, there is crime, but it is on the decline. If we look at it from the severity index perspective, I think some positive developments have transpired over the past 10 or 12 years.