Farmers Pushing Back Against "Epidemic" of Rural Crime
Nick Cornea is a young Moose Jaw man, who farms out of Briercrest, who started something that can't be ignored.
On February 28th at about 9pm he launched a Facebook group called Farmers Against Rural Crime. Immediately after the launch, large numbers of farmers joined the group. Within two weeks the group had almost 8,000 members, mostly from across the Prairies, but also quite a few from British Columbia, as well. It's a private group, and a forum where farmers can go and exchange their stories about rural crime and discuss ideas on how to both prepare for and put an end to the crimes directed at them.
"We are trying to get the strength in numbers to change some policies" Cornea said.
Some of the policy changes that Nick says are the most popular among people in the group are as follows:
They would like to see a change in the young offenders act. Nick questions whether we are too lenient on teenagers who commit crime and he has contemplated lowering the age to as low as 12.
"If you are a fifteen or sixteen year old stealing, you are conscious of what you are doing, he said. "You can get a drivers license at sixteen, but you aren't expected to know right from wrong?"
Many in the group would also like stiffer penalties for criminals, but not just in time served. They would like to see thieves pay back their debts to the communities they criminalize. Whether those debts be paid monetarily or with hard work doesn't matter, Nick would be happy with either.
"They used to have prisoners pay off their debts to the communities they affected. Have them pick garbage alongside the highways. Why should the tax payer have to pay to replace the stuff that was stolen from them and then pay for the person who stole it to live in prison?" he questioned. "Think of all the recycling they could collect. That money could go to different charities or women's shelters."
They would also like to see more funding for the RCMP, so they can better police rural communities.
"I'd like to see volunteer police officers in places without a detachment. And I would like to see officers stay in detachments longer. If I've been living in an area for twenty-five years and don't know all the back roads, how is somebody who has only been here six months gonna know their way around?"
He says that Avonlea is 45 minutes from the closest detachment and in Briercrest they have to call the Milestone detachment for police enforcement. For stolen vehicles, it sometimes takes three to four days for police to come investigate. "They just tell us to report it with SGI" he said.
They would also like to see more police officers or volunteer police officers in small communities. "It would keep us safer and take some stress off of the RCMP".
Nick claims that the crime farmers are dealing with is out of control. He personally knows hundreds of farmers who have been affected by it. Fuel, vehicles, quads and side-by-sides being the most targeted items. But he also knows of a farmer whose horse was shot and left to bleed out.
"One family, just south of Moose Jaw," he said, "had their two car garage broken into. A thief stole their car and drove it to Davidson, where it ran out of gas. The thief just ditched it there and stole another one."
"It's an epidemic" he said, adding "It's not just that the people don't understand; the government doesn't either. They don't understand the magnitude of the situation."
Nick may just have a point. Only last week, MSN published their "20 Places in Canada with the Worst Crime."
North Battleford; Thompson, MB and Yorkton were numbers 1,2 & 3, respectively. All cities from which many of the complaining farmers live near.
"I can't imagine what it's like living up north, it's bad enough down here," Nick said. "Farmers up there get stolen from so often they can't even afford insurance anymore".
Nick claims that much of the crime is gang-related, and it comes from larger urban centres. "A lot of gangs are dropping off young kids who want to join the gang and telling them they need to make it back to the city with as many goods as possible. And this I heard right from an RCMP officer."
"We are just tired of being victims turned into criminals," he said. "Every day I wonder if I'm going to pull onto my farm and see that my sled's gone. I wouldn't be surprised if it was."
Nick responded to some of the most popular criticisms surrounding the creation of Farmers Against Rural Crime.
One complaint, often cited, is that if farmers want less crime, then maybe the farmers should just stop stealing from each other.
Nick acknowledges that that does happen on occasion but says "it is a small percentage of the crime" farmers deal with.
Another sentiment readily fired at Nick and the page's followers is that they are simply "racist old farmers who just want to be able to legally shoot indigenous people."
Nick and many other farmers are insulted that some people think them simply "racist farmers".
"I think the race card is played a little too much. If someone doesn't like what you say, it's easy for them to just call you a racist and not have to address what you are saying and think they've won". "Farmers don't want to hurt people" he added. "Hurting people isn't the way to solve this."
For Nick, this isn't just about creating a large group of people; it's about taking action.
"I'm not just a guy on a computer. I'm active in this. I want change," he said, adding "First step, I meet with MLAs and go to town hall meetings. We will start fundraising to help with some of those costs".
Nick wants to hear other people's stories of rural crimes, that's a part of the purpose of Farmers Against Rural Crime. He wants all the stories so he can get a better sense of what is happening and what is going missing. He will take some of those stories with him when he approaches the appropriate levels of government.
If you have a story, Nick encourages you to join the group and message him at firstname.lastname@example.org