I see quorum. It's 3:30 p.m. We can get started and we'll anticipate that other members will join us.
I don't want to have a debate about this, but prior to starting, I just want to test the appetite of the committee.
The committee submitted a report on aboriginal incarceration and things of that nature. It was a unanimous report and the committee was very much seized with the discussion. When we submitted it, there was an appetite at that time to call the commissioner of Correctional Services back to discuss the report, the recommendations and the government's response. I just wanted to see whether we should start arranging that sooner rather than later, or whether you want to bump that off to the subcommittee.
An hon. member: Is the NDP in favour?
The Chair: The NDP is in favour of that, yes. I have checked.
You're fine. I talked to Michel. Are you fine with that?
An hon. member: Yes.
The Chair: Okay. I'm going to work on the assumption that the committee wants to hear the response.
An hon. member: Always.
The Chair: I know. Always. We may have to circumscribe the questions, mind you.
The second issue is that Mr. Picard has drafted a proposed resolution with respect to cybersecurity. Again, both the NDP and the Liberals are fine with it—he has talked to Glen. It will be eight to 12 meetings, essentially on the economic impacts of cybersecurity. I don't want to get into a big debate; I just want to know—
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for inviting me to present to you today.
I live close to Medicine Hat, Alberta, but I'm actually coming to you from Calgary, Alberta. I'm currently on and would like to honour the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Nation, the people of the Treaty No. 7 region. I'd also like to honour the Métis people, who have had significant impact on this land.
I've been working with SARC for over 10 years. Until a month ago, we were the only sexual assault response committee in southern Alberta.
As an organization, SARC covers approximately 40,000 square kilometres. That means I'm highly bonded with my car; her name is Lola. This region is inclusive of two small urban cities and several rural and remote areas.
In terms of a bit about myself, I was born and raised in a small, remote area in southern Saskatchewan, and I currently live in a small town. When I was growing up, I was about an hour from the nearest bottle of milk. I am a registered social worker whose education focused mainly on rural and remote and indigenous social work. I've spent the last 10 years of my career working specifically at SARC, focusing on anti-violence initiatives, specializing in sexual violence, community development and cross-disciplinary collaboration, and creating coordinated community response protocols and policy development—again, in the very specific areas of sexual violence responses, trauma-informed care and sexual violence-specific care.
Unfortunately, a lot of the research on sexual violence is focused largely on large urban areas, and the reporting of sexual violence to police in rural areas is almost non-existent. There were times over the last 10 years when I would go out and policing organizations would tell me that there might have been one, if not zero, disclosure of sexual violence. This could lead the general population and policing to believe that sexual and domestic violence are not occurring in rural and remote areas. However, I would assert that this is not the case, and that sexual violence is in fact occurring. As a matter of fact, the risk factors for sexual violence are significantly higher in rural and remote areas due to increased poverty, lack of employment opportunities and lack of professionalized support systems in rural areas.
There are great people living in rural and remote areas. I myself come from one. We are robust, strong people. There's a different approach between someone who is well intentioned and someone who is coming at it from a professional world view.
The stark reality is also that the community norms at times tolerate sexual violence. Our society, our laws and our practice also support gender inequality, specifically in how they're interpreted on the ground or the understanding by policing as to how those laws should be applied.
We have a very low conviction rate in Canada even when the reporting of sexual violence does occur. This really leads victims to not want to report, because they often wonder why they've gone through all of this for no conviction.
Several barriers occur for victims of sexual violence in reporting. Some of these are telecommunications and transportation barriers, the significant stigma associated with sexual violence, and a huge concern surrounding confidentiality and the lack of anonymity. This is because of increased familiarity within the population. Everybody knows everybody—I know your dog, and I know your stuff. That really limits people from wanting to report.
There is a culture of victim blaming in some criminal justice communities, as well. This results in a fear of police not responding appropriately. Interrogation by police, specifically if it starts to look like the individual may not be telling the whole truth.... What happens is it can move away from interviewing and into interrogation. They're really worried about cross-examination in court and not being believed in general throughout the system.
There is a culture of acceptance and normalization of sexual violence and also a lack of protection from the person who assaulted them. In some of our areas, it takes two hours for police to get to some of our farms and remote areas. The victims do not feel protected.
The other side of it is that if they do report, however, while victim assistance or victim services could support them, that is not often seen as an option. A lot of that has to do with the dual relationships that occur in rural and remote areas. The people who are volunteering or who perhaps are employed by VA or victim services can be the abuser's family or friends. They're staff. They're volunteers. There's also social isolation in terms of the ability to actually get there or the ability for the advocate to come to them. Again, there's a fear of shame and a fear of reprisal from the community.
How do we improve our systems?
Some people, even based on the dual relationships, would still love to have a victim advocate. We need to really enforce the referral from RCMP to victim assistance programs. This needs to be open to all victims, regardless of whether the officer deems the victim to be deserving or not deserving of services or whether charges are moving forward.
Next, ensure that victims services coordinators have a strong background and an education in human services. This would bring professionalism and a level of accountability to the program. Oftentimes in rural and remote areas it's the good volunteers who are moved into coordination positions.
Also, honour the significant difference in Alberta between a victim assistance volunteer and an actual advocate. Volunteers do not advocate. They're more of a guide by your side. They'll accompany you. They'll give you a glass of water and a box of Kleenex. An advocate will actually slow down the whole process through the criminal justice system, work as an interpreter and really protect that individual's human rights. There are some models out there.
Currently in Medicine Hat we have two registered social workers embedded in the Medicine Hat Police Service. They're doing all the work from pre-reporting all the way through the system and are there to advocate for the individual. We are seeing a reduced level of secondary trauma or victimization, as well as an increased engagement in the criminal justice system. Early outcomes are very good.
As well, ensure that all rural and remote areas have sexual assault forensic kits. This is currently not the case.
Also, ensure that all officers are trained in trauma-informed caring responses. Trauma presents very much like mental health concerns. This approach, this trauma-informed approach, really changes the system and changes the approach, so that it's not “What's wrong with you?” when people come in, but “What's happened to you?”
Next, train all officers in the neurobiology of trauma. Officers often misinterpret lack of memory and evolving disclosures as lying. Victims cannot tell their story in a linear manner; it's just how trauma is stored. It's important to understand how the brain encodes trauma. This understanding will assist investigators not only in victim engagement but in fully accessing the victim's stored memory.
There are models out there that are specific to sexual violence, such as FETI. These models move away from the who, what and why and start to access those stored memories through the senses, the five senses. Brief but compassionate responses are critical at the initial contact, and knowing to back off and come back 48 hours later is actually a best practice. Again, a richer disclosure will occur.
Also, it's critical to have the RCMP at community response tables. It's resource-heavy, and we all understand that, but that's where the true integration occurs.
As well, it's important to put third party review strategies in place, such as the Philadelphia model. It's also important to train officers in the signs of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue for themselves and to make the policing culture safe for people to treat their own experiences. Looking at the works of Françoise Mathieu and individuals like her will support that.
Last, if you want to increase reporting, increase accountability in rural and remote areas, it has to begin by believing survivors when they come forward and making it safe physically, emotionally and mentally to do so.
First of all, I want to thank you for allowing me to speak on this really important issue. The Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association would like to encourage you to complete this study on rural crime and its effects on rural life in Canada.
My name is Trevor Tychkowsky. I'm the past president of the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association and currently live in a rural community in Alberta.
We know that crime rates have been on the rise for some time. The public is getting more and more concerned. This has become very clear, as we've had more interest in our organization than ever before. Media interviewers want to know what we can do to reduce crime in the rural areas, and the public has told us that they're not feeling safe in their small communities.
The Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association has been diligent in educating our local membership in crime prevention techniques in the hope that these methods may be adopted by the residents of the rural areas. CPTED, crime prevention through environmental design, principles have been widely used and have proven to reduce the instances of rural crime activities. We are constantly looking for other means to get the message out to rural areas.
At the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association, we are doing our best in terms of what we can do to resolve the crime problem, but we know that the criminals know the exact response times of rural policing, and they also know what punishment they will receive once they're caught. We believe that this topic can't wait, as taxpayers want answers for what can be done.
We at the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association are encouraging the public to make sure their belongings are locked up and to start taking a more proactive approach, as in knowing their neighbours, and also, when they see something suspicious, to call as soon as it's safe to do so, hopefully within the hour, even if it seems unlikely to be suspicious. We also encourage our local rural crime watch groups to have an informal evening stressing CPTED principles.
In closing, we want to thank member of Parliament for presenting the rural crime study bill, and we support her efforts going forward.
Ms. Johnson, I listened intently to your presentation. Thank you for that, and thank you for the passion that you showed.
It's quite easy to point a finger at a police officer and say that this is done wrong or that's not done right. However, a lot of the actions by a police officer, whether it's RCMP or city police officer or whatever, are actions that she or he follows in an investigation that are required for them to prove a case in court.
Now, I know she said that maybe they could take a 48-hour break or something like that if a person is upset. Try to explain that to a judge or a lawyer, or a defence lawyer. I would really argue a case against that. The police officer needs to get that evidence put together.
Your ideas are excellent, but the problem I see is whether the courts accept that in the terms of evidence. This is where the problem goes. The defence lawyer will try to chew up a statement. The police officer is trying to take a statement which is the best recollection at the time of that incident.
You may not know my background. I was a police officer for 35 years—all rural, aboriginal policing. Now, many times in 48 hours, a story will change. We are trying to find out about the actual circumstances so that we can do the investigation. Sometimes it is impassioned—I totally agree with you—and it's difficult.
I totally agree with you that many rural communities across Canada have recruits, non-experienced police officers. When a person gets experience, he is probably going to want to go to a larger centre. That's where the expertise is. I think what you're saying is that initial contact is not sometimes an expert investigator in sexual crime; he or she may be a fairly new police officer.
Do you think we also need to share some of the responsibilities with the court services, along with the police officers, so that we can get a kind of united front on how we can best handle these very intricate, very emotional investigations?
Yes, you bet. There are several different groups.
As the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association, or any rural crime association, we are the passive group. We tell people we don't want boots on the ground. We don't want people doing active patrol. We want that person knowing about their neighbours. We want that person travelling out for coffee to the community to just watch out for their neighbours.
With Citizens on Patrol, its mandate is being the boots on the ground. They actually do backup patrols in their communities and are patrolled on that aspect.
Do we work with them? Yes, absolutely. We have two different kinds of mandates. We are both crime prevention, but we're two different mandates. One is the boots on the ground, and they teach them for boots on the ground, and with the other one, we teach our rural people about just getting back to those roots, getting back to the way it was long ago when all neighbours knew one another. When somebody is away, it's knowing who that person is.
It seems like these last probably 20 years, that's been going away. We don't know our neighbours. In a lot of the small communities, I've talked to a lot of people, and they don't even know who their neighbour is half a mile away. That's really disheartening.
Thanks, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the opportunity to participate.
Thanks to both of you for being here and lending your time and insight to this committee's work.
Trevor, from the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association, I want to thank you for your endorsement of Motion No. 167, and for joining the more than 101 other organizations across seven provinces and the thousands of Canadians who have banded together to bring this focus on rural crime. It is a growing epidemic certainly across our province, but in other places around the country as well.
I would invite you to expand a little more on what my colleague was asking about in terms of the successes that have been seen so far with the crime reduction team.
There's a detachment in my area, for example, where there are four officers who have to cover almost 3,000 square kilometres. There are rarely ever two officers on duty at the same time. They certainly have limited and in some cases no support staff.
I think there's a two-pronged issue here. One is that I'm hoping this committee will do a review of sufficient front-line resources in rural, remote and indigenous communities.
Also, would you say, given that there have been successes and a moving of the dial as a result of the work of these dedicated crime reduction task force teams, it reinforces the argument that there should be a bolstering of RCMP law enforcement visibility and active presence in rural and remote communities to combat rural crime?
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll be sharing my time with Ms. Sahota, if time permits.
I want to start by thanking both of our presenters for their excellent presentations. I have a comment and a question for both.
Trevor, I was a member of a citizens on patrol group in my own neighbourhood before political life and also a member of CFCA. I'm very aware of the great work they do, not only to reduce crime in neighbourhoods but also for community cohesion as we get to know our neighbours. I must admit that walking around at two in the morning in my neighbourhood in local parks is sometimes not people's idea of fun, but it was very effective in reducing property crime.
I'm aware that the initiative I was involved with was funded both provincially and municipally, not federally, so I'd like a comment from you on the federal role. Let me first ask Christina my other question and then get both of you to respond, because I want to leave time for Ms. Sahota.
We've launched a gender-based violence strategy of $200 million over five years, which I'm sure you're aware of. The three pillars are prevention, support for survivors and their families and responsive legal and justice systems. I'm aware, particularly in my home province of Manitoba—we're going to be having a delegation from Thompson, Manitoba—that there are very high rates of gender-based violence in our north, which we know we have to do something about. There's a lack of services.
I wonder if you would comment a bit on prevention. We also have some signature initiatives. I'll use my own community as an example. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are very involved in prevention and in engaging young men and boys. They're in the schools. They're really having an impact on reducing gender-based violence and the causes of gender-based violence and in dealing with issues such as consent. Do we need those kinds of initiatives in rural Manitoba and rural Canada?
Thank you for having us. I think it is very important that we are speaking out on this issue, about an incident that happened to me a couple of months ago, what has come from that, and the feedback that we've received from speaking out on this incident in our community. I will just start by reading about the incident that happened.
On August 10, 2018, while I was alone at home with my two young daughters, I was awoken at approximately 2:00 a.m. by my oldest daughter's yelling that someone was in our backyard and was trying to break into our house.
We had been doing some renovations on our backyard, so our deck was leading up to the doors in my bedroom. As I looked, I could see the individual trying to come through the screen door into my bedroom.
With force, I was able to push him out and close the door, but I could hear him and what sounded like numerous other people in the vicinity of my house screaming and yelling.
Immediately after closing the door and locking it again, I grabbed my cellphone and dialed the RCMP, which in Thompson here is not simply 911. We have to dial 204-677-6911. Can you imagine what that's like, having someone break into your house and having to dial 10 numbers? It's quite an ordeal.
The first time I dialed the number, I immediately got a recording which said that all operators were currently busy. Being frightened, I hung up and dialed the number again, and again I got the same message that all operators were currently busy.
Hearing these people in my backyard, hearing them trying to get into my house and not being able to reach anybody for help, I called our local fire department. I immediately got through to them and explained what was happening. They put me through to the RCMP once again while they were on the line with me. They stayed on the line with me while we again got this message that all operators were busy.
We continued to hold. That time span felt like a lifetime, but in reality it was probably about five to seven minutes until I was finally able to speak to somebody, explain my situation, and try to get some help for me and my kids.
Once I was able to speak to somebody and give my information, it took literally less than three minutes to have the RCMP dispatched to my house. Unfortunately, by this time everybody was gone. They weren't able to apprehend anybody. However, I imagine that if I had gotten through to somebody immediately and not had to have been on hold for that amount of time, they probably would have been able to get there a lot faster.
I think it's scary. I was raised in this community. I've raised my kids to memorize this 10-digit number, which is harder than three digits, obviously, but is still just as important. I've raised my kids to dial this number when they need help or assistance, and they rely on that. We're raised that way.
Unfortunately, my children are still shaken up about these events that happened. There are questions in their minds now. If they need help, can they actually receive the help? Are they going to be put on hold? Being so young, if they're attacked and they're trying to get help, how long are they going to be on hold before they actually get some help?
I think the question is this: Why does Thompson not have a local dispatch? With the crime rate that Thompson has.... We'll be mentioning that Maclean's magazine has rated us as the second most dangerous Canadian city to live in. We don't have a local dispatch. We don't have a local 911.
I think it's unacceptable that we have to be on hold. Our lives don't seem to matter as much as that of somebody else who has 911, who maybe will get through right away. I just think that's unacceptable.
I'll pass it over to Geri.
Hi. I'm Geraldine Dixon. Actually, I am Alicia's mother.
After dealing with the incident that occurred to my daughter and her family, the following day I went down to our local RCMP detachment, where I spoke to an officer, and then after leaving there I spoke to our acting mayor, Colleen Smook. Mrs. Smook recommended that we send a letter of our concerns to the Minister of Justice, as well as to mayor and council. The letters were sent August 13 and August 15, 2018, respectively.
In a follow-up to the letters sent, my daughter and I spoke to the mayor and council at the monthly city council meeting, where Mayor Fenske told us that the decision to get rid of the Thompson local 911 call centre was made by the Manitoba government, not the city, and that northern Manitoba does not have the infrastructure to support a 911 call centre. Mayor Fenske told us that they had been lobbying the government to fix this problem, but “that's just how it is in the north”.
We also sent an email regarding our concerns to Cliff Cullen, Minister of Justice, and we copied Brian Pallister, Kelly Bindle and . We received a reply to our email from Karen Lambert, director of contract policing, recommending to stay on the line when calling 204-677-6911.
I met with Kelly Bindle, Thompson's MLA, on September 19, 2018, after numerous attempts to meet with him, and was told that he would send off another letter to Cliff Cullen as the last reply we received from him was unsatisfactory.
We were told Mr. Bindle would be in contact with us and, to date, one day shy of one month, we had not heard anything. I want to do a follow-up to this because after we sent this letter on to your committee, Mr. Bindle did get back to us and we forwarded his email on to you. But please note that in Mr. Bindle's email he contradicts Mayor Fenske, saying that infrastructure is and always has been in place and at no time has Mr. Bindle seen any lobbying done to change the existing situation.
For awareness purposes, my daughter and I have started a petition, which we will present to the new mayor and council, showing the concerns and the support from the community for a local 911 call centre. Thompson is known as the hub of the north, and Maclean's magazine has ranked us number two on the most dangerous place to live in Canada list. People do not feel safe, and we need change.
If I might add to this, we received another email from Kelly Bindle regarding our RCMP 911 service. There is one paragraph I would love to read, as it highlights why we are here today speaking to you. It says:
|| The RCMP has provided the following information regarding this specific incident: On August 11, 2018, between 1:30 and 2:30 am, the RCMP received 50 emergency calls—
My name is Eddie Maurice and this is my wife Jessica. Thank you for inviting us here to share our story and speak on an issue that has greatly affected us.
We were invited here to speak because when two criminals came onto my rural property in February, I was the one arrested by the RCMP. My story received national attention after charges were laid against me for protecting myself, my young daughter and my property.
I was home alone with my 12-month-old daughter, who was sleeping in her bedroom downstairs, when I was awoken from my sleep at about 5:00 a.m. by criminals outside my rural home. Instantly, I was terrified, because when you live in the country as we do, your neighbours cannot hear you scream. It was pitch black outside and pitch black in the house, and I didn't know how many criminals there were, where they were or what they wanted.
I took my .22 rifle and went to the front door to confront and scare off the two criminals who were just 10 feet away. I yelled at them to leave and got no response from them, so I fired warning shots into the ground to scare them off. The two criminals ran back up our laneway to a van waiting on the road, and I immediately called 911 to report what had happened in the hope that the RCMP would catch them. I just wanted to protect my daughter, who was sleeping downstairs.
We live on the edge of our town of almost 30,000 people, just a seven-minute drive from our RCMP station. I waited anxiously for the police to arrive, fearful of who might still be out in the dark or that people might come back. Two hours later, three RCMP cruisers drove in and officers came to my door with their assault rifles drawn to arrest me. They were telling me that I, the person who called 911 on the real criminals, was under arrest. It turned out that one of the criminals had been injured by a ricocheting bullet and the police were responding to his, the criminal's, 911 call. I informed the officers that my daughter was still sleeping in her crib and the RCMP officer arresting me expected me to leave her in her care, treating me as the criminal rather than the victim.
At the time of my arrest, I was advised that I was being arrested for the criminal charge of careless use of a firearm. After I was in custody for 24 hours, the RCMP laid three charges against me: careless use of a firearm, pointing a firearm, and, the most serious charge, aggravated assault. Now, this is an important part of the story, because this is where the RCMP made a mistake that was life-changing for our family. They laid the charges at about 7:00 a.m. Sunday and did not even begin a physical investigation of the property or forensics until 9:00 a.m. Sunday. This means that the RCMP made a decision to lay three serious charges against me based solely on my 911 call, a statement that they coerced me into giving without my lawyer present, and a statement from the injured criminal. This criminal had admitted to doing drugs earlier in the night, was found with methamphetamine on him, and had a criminal history. Our two statements were very different. The police had no physical evidence or any admission from me that I intended to injure this person.
The RCMP had a choice at the time. They could have and should have released me because I was a law-abiding, taxpaying citizen with no criminal record. They could have investigated further and laid charges later if the evidence supported it. Instead, they chose to lay the charges without sufficient basis and hoped that the evidence they later found would support them in those charges. I was presumed guilty first, rather than innocent, which is not how our justice system was designed.
The evidence didn't support the RCMP's charges, and the preliminary ballistics report confirmed my statement. The Crown withdrew the charges after four months of extreme stress, anxiety and fear for our family. This whole event was traumatic for me. Confronting these criminals outside my home gave me nightmares that were long-lasting. They were dressed all in black, and in the dark you couldn't tell if they had weapons. Then to be arrested and charged like a criminal after calling 911 expecting help, when I didn't do anything wrong and did what any other rural person would do in the same situation, was devastating. I didn't ask for these criminals to come onto my property and force me to make a decision. I don't want anyone else to have to go through this same experience.
We became a focal point for people in rural communities across both Alberta and Canada as many people identified with our situation and felt that they would have done the same thing in the same situation. At one local town hall meeting on rural crime, over 300 people gave us an unexpected standing ovation as a show of support for Eddie's actions and our ongoing very public legal battle. People rallied outside the courthouse at all six of Eddie's court appearances, with over 200 people at one, because they felt that there was a huge injustice being done to him. We are here to speak not only about our experience but also on behalf of all of those who supported and spoke to us in the eight months since Eddie's arrest.
What many urban people don't realize is that for us it's not just stuff we lose when crimes like this happen, but we also lose that feeling of safety and security that we all expect in our own homes. There is a feeling of being violated, a fear that the criminals might return to do more harm. There is an ongoing anxiety that remains long after the stuff is gone.
The crime rates in our area have more than tripled in the last five years and the rural community is not only frustrated, they're scared. Criminals aren't afraid to use violence and guns, because they have nothing to lose. They know that the RCMP response times in rural areas are atrocious and they use that to their advantage to commit more crimes. Now they're only becoming bolder with crimes happening in broad daylight and even while people are at home.
People in rural communities, who are a large part of this great nation, are starting to become afraid of the RCMP, too, and our situation is a good example of why. The RCMP have made it clear that if citizens step in to stop a crime in progress and protect themselves or their property, as my husband did, they will be the ones on trial facing jail time. The RCMP are losing the trust of the people that they are supposed to protect.
At the town halls we've been attending, people keep asking the RCMP what they're supposed to do when a criminal comes onto their property. The answer is always to go back in the house, find a safe room, and call 911. But that answer isn't cutting it anymore. The police cannot be there fast enough, as it is not physically possible in the moment when a crime is happening, and this is evidenced by the alarming increase in rural crime.
The RCMP are also telling us to put up gates across our driveways, to get security and camera systems, and to make our properties less attractive to criminals. Why is the onus being put on the property owners to protect themselves and make their properties less attractive to the criminals? This changes the feel of the community in rural areas, where we choose to live because of the privacy, peacefulness, and openness of the communities and neighbours. This whole ideology is thrown away when you have to turn your property into a fortress with gates and security cameras.
We're tired of being told to stand down and being okay with being the victims. Canadians are strong and courageous people and we expect to live freely and safely, and that's not happening. Hiring more police alone is not going to solve the issue of rural crime. We have to take it a step further. If the government is not able to protect us, we need to be able to protect ourselves.
Our recommendation is that this committee and the Government of Canada implement stronger self-defence and property defence laws so that the people can protect themselves without fear of prosecution. We urge you to consider significant changes to the laws to allow people to be their own first line of defence in crimes, just as we are in fire and health emergencies.
While there seems to be a fear of guns in Canadian urban areas, this is not the case in rural Canada. We are raised and taught from a young age about guns, gun safety and to be respectful with firearms. They are a necessary part of the rural lifestyle, to hunt for food and scare off or kill predators to keep our livestock safe. Firearms aren't the problem in Canada. Our justice system is the problem, and our case is not an isolated incident.
Gerald Stanley and Peter Khill are other victims that have gone through similar situations. Faith in our justice system in rural areas is quickly dying. If you don't do something to strengthen these laws for rural communities soon, more people will stop calling the police. This is already happening. Rural citizens are starting to take justice and protection into their own hands without police involvement. They aren't reporting it and you can be sure that the criminals aren't reporting it either.
Until the criminals start to see that there are consequences to committing these crimes in rural areas, they're going to keep coming and victimizing us. The fastest, cheapest way to change rural crime is not through policing or rehabilitation programs but through allowing us to defend and protect ourselves and our property. Rural Canadians are not willing to sit back and it's up to this committee to represent their wishes. We want to be able to protect ourselves and our property, and it's up to you to make sure that we can.
I'll be sharing my time with my colleague, Ms. Moore.
I want to thank all of the witnesses for coming today, the Maurices, Ms. Bedford and Ms. Dixon, who are joining us from Thompson, my hometown as well.
I really appreciate your taking the time to explain what happened to you, Ms. Bedford. It is a story that I know you've told many times and that has really gripped people in our community and across Manitoba.
I think it's also very important that at the national level we hear from you about what you went through and, frankly, what our community is going through when it comes to trying to get help in what could possibly be a life-or-death situation.
You've alluded to some of the crime statistics, and the pressures on the 911 system. It's been indicated to us that the RCMP are short-staffed in Thompson and in communities across the north, The Pas, Flin Flon and elsewhere, in terms of servicing not just our community but also the surrounding region.
How important do you think it is for the federal government and for all governments to invest and ensure that there is proper RCMP support or increased RCMP presence, including more officers in Thompson?
Mr. Chair, I will start by saying that I'm a little disappointed by the rant that Ms. Stubbs just gave.
Trying to politicize this issue I don't think is the right way to get to any solutions. It's not a Liberal problem, a Conservative problem or an NDP problem. It's something that we need to work on together on all sides of the aisle so that we can help the people here. The Conservatives were in power for 10 years. When it comes to these matters, the same Criminal Code laws existed then that exist now. It's quite rich to say that breaking and entering didn't happen under the Conservative rule but all of a sudden is happening under the Liberal government. That is not what we're here to do.
I'm glad that this private member's motion has come forward to this committee so we can figure out how we can work together to solve these issues.
It's quite atrocious, I think, Ms. Dixon and Ms. Bedford, what you've had to go through.
I sympathize with you as well, Mr. and Mrs. Maurice.
I know that safety is really important for every individual, regardless of where they live. Once somebody has been through your stuff, you can't regain that sense of safety again.
I'll start with you, Ms. Bedford and Ms. Dixon. What is it that you think, because I know that funding.... The response rate in a lot of rural communities, as we're hearing right now, is quite slow. The Manitoba government, from what I've seen, has increased community safety funding by only 1.9%, by about the rate of inflation. Do you think there has been enough of a priority put in place by the province to have policing and to put money into these areas?
Do you think more can be done? If so—I know that you don't know where to go to get those supports—what have you been calling for so far and what work have you tried to do?
This committee is mostly made up of MPs from Ontario and Quebec and, I think, mostly urban areas, so we hope that you gain an understanding of what rural reality is actually like in our areas. It is quite different from downtown Toronto or some of the urban ridings that you represent.
We're also looking to have a review and improvement in the RCMP policies and protocols for handling situations where landowners and rural residents have to take measures to care for themselves and their properties. We want you to look at and consider who you're really protecting here. Is it the criminals who are committing these crimes, or is it the taxpaying, law-abiding, contributing citizens who founded this country?
We also feel that there is a lack of accountability in the RCMP system. We're also having problems with 911 dispatch in our area in Alberta because it is centralized. Obviously, that's a problem in other areas as well. We want to make sure that the RCMP are accountable for their actions and that they're not just throwing charges around without having done their due diligence.
Also, with regard to Bill , the bill before the House about sentencing, the characteristics of an effective justice system are not just about rehabilitation, which I think is an important part of a justice system because we should be helping to rehabilitate offenders. It's also about punishing them for their offences, deterring others, which the system is not currently doing, and giving retribution to society. I think that there needs to be some review of those aspects, as well, in the criminal justice system and when you're looking at Bill C-75 because reducing sentences is not going to provide those pillars to the justice system, and it's not going to do anything to deter future crimes.
That's all that I have, but basically, we need to stop the revolving door of criminals.