Launch will be happening down the road

Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General

While it has begun, more details about Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT)’s Southeast Alberta Property Crime Unit will have to wait. 

The new crime unit was launched at the beginning of April 2020, with its creation attributable to new funding provided by the Alberta Government. 

The unit is aimed at tackling regional property crime, and is a joint forces initiative between ALERT, Medicine Hat Police Service, and the RCMP.

ALERT was established and is funded by the Alberta Government and is a compilation of the province’s most sophisticated law enforcement resources committed to tackling serious and organized crime.

More details of the southeast property crime unit was supposed to be announced at June 8 news conference at the Medicine Hat Police station but due to a scheduling conflict, Minister Doug Schweitzer and others were not able to make it and more info will come forth in the near future. 

The reason why the Southeast Property Crime Unit was organized was because after having discussions with many in the southeast, there was concerns about how many sectors were being targets of rural-based crime. Town halls and meetings with various group indicated something must be down to slow down crime on rural properties and businesses. 

Besides farms, oilfield and telecommunications areas were all targets. 

“One of the things we kept hearing when we were meeting with people (last last year) is rural crime is a huge issue,” explained Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General in a June 8 phone interview. 

He noted the number of reported thefts of things such as scrap metal, copper wire and catalytic converters was on the rise. 

The government had announced in November, 2019 their commitment to do more. They announced further steps to combat rural crime, which includes expanded authorities and roles for Government of Alberta peace officers from the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch and the Alberta Sheriffs.

Integrating provincial peace officers

In rural areas, police can be stretched across large distances, which can lead to longer response times. To help reduce response times, the government will create the Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence Force – the RAPID Force – by expanding the roles and authorities of 400 peace officers in the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch and the traffic arm of the Alberta Sheriffs. The changes will allow these officers to respond to a wider range of calls and to assist the RCMP and other police services in some emergencies.

Training and related planning is underway, to have the first of these officers available to assist rural Albertans by fall 2020.

Strengthening property rights

To defend the rights of law-abiding property owners, the government will introduce changes to the Occupiers’ Liability Act.  These changes would eliminate the liability of law-abiding property owners who are protecting their property against trespasses who are, or who are believed to be, in the commission of a criminal act. This provision will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018.

To strengthen trespass laws and further defend property rights, planned legislation includes a proposed five-fold increase to the maximum fines for trespassing offences, with fines of up to $10,000 for a first violation and $25,000 for subsequent offences, as well as possible prison time of up to six months. Corporations that help or direct trespassers would face fines up to $200,000. In addition to these increases, a proposed change would increase the maximum amount a court can order for loss of or damage to property from $25,000 to $100,000.

The planned legislation would amend the Petty Trespass Act to add explicit references to better capture land used for crops, animal-rearing and bee-keeping.

A proposed biosecurity regulation under the Animal Health Act would create offences and penalties for people who enter agricultural operations without authorization or encourage others to do so. Such incidents can introduce disease and threaten the welfare of animals.

Cracking down on metal theft

Government has proclaimed the Scrap Metal Dealers and Recyclers Identification Act to deter metal theft by making it more difficult for criminals to monetize stolen material by selling it for scrap.

Metal theft is a significant public safety risk. Thieves terrify property owners by trespassing and stealing materials such as copper wire and industrial batteries and frequently damage and interfere with critical systems like electrical lines, telecommunications cables and transportation infrastructure.

Criminals often steal metal from property owners and critical infrastructure in isolated areas to avoid detection. This has also made rural Albertans a target of trespassers and thieves looking for metal.

The Scrap Metal Dealers and Recyclers Identification Act was passed in 2012, but never proclaimed. An Order in Council signed Nov. 5 puts the legislation into effect immediately.

Regulations outlining requirements on dealers and recyclers to obtain proof of identification from sellers, record and retain details of transactions and share information with law enforcement will be in place by spring 2020. There is also an immediate requirement for scrap metal dealers and recyclers to report any suspected stolen property in their possession to authorities.

A new voice for victims

Community impact statements will recognize the far-reaching effects of a crime and how an entire community can suffer harm or loss.

A new program will enable communities to take part in the sentencing of offenders by letting them submit a statement describing how the crime has affected the community as a whole – including the emotional, physical and economic impact, or fears they may have for their own security.

A community impact statement could be written on behalf of any group of people, such as those in a geographic area, diverse segments of the population, and groups affected by the crime.

Community impact statement forms will be available online in early January.

There will also be additional support for victims, via a new Restitution Recoveries Program. The program will help victims collect outstanding payments on restitution orders by giving government the authority to use enforcement measures against offenders, such as garnishing wages or seizing and selling property, as needed.

This program will reduce red tape for victims who would otherwise have to navigate the legal system and attempt to collect court-ordered restitution at their own risk, effort and expense.

Schweitzer said June 8 that details on the southeast issue will be forthcoming in the near future. 

(With files from Ryan Dahlman)

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