Prairie provinces see highest rates of rural violent crime involving firearms

Rural residents living on the prairies are much more likely to be victims of violent crime involving a firearm than those in other provinces, according to numbers released this week by Statistics Canada.

'Often times, these people are addicted to drugs and … committing offences over multiple periods of time'

The Prairies have the highest rates of rural violent crime involving firearms among the provinces, according to numbers from Statistics Canada. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Prairie rural residents are much more likely to be victims of violent crime involving a firearm than rural residents in other provinces, according to numbers released this week by Statistics Canada.

In 2016, police in Alberta reported a rate of 53 victims of firearm-related violent crime per 100,000 people in rural areas.

That's slightly lower than Saskatchewan, with a rate of 68 per 100,000, and just above Manitoba, which saw 50 per 100,000 rural residents victimized.

The national average is 30 per 100,000.

British Columbia, by comparison, had a rate of 17 per 100,000, and in Ontario it's 10 per 100,000.

Those living in Canada's territories — Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut — face the highest rates of violent crime involving firearms, with rates of 169, 112, and 89 per 100,000, respectively.

Quebec was not included in the breakdown.

Rural areas are defined as having less than half the policed population located in a census metropolitan area.

Most rural crime involves break and enters, theft of vehicles, fraud, and theft over and under $5,000, says RCMP Cpl. Chris Warren.

"We acknowledge Albertans are concerned with the crime rates … and we also understand people feel vulnerable and frustrated, which is why we've made crime reduction an operational priority in this division," he said.

Repeat offenders

Many cases in Alberta involve repeat offenders, says Warren.

"Often times, these people are addicted to drugs and … committing offences over multiple periods of time, and we want to put an end to that," he said.

"And the way to do that is to focus on the activities of these people, gather intelligence, and then act on that so we can take the appropriate steps so they are removed from the community, so they're not consistently causing harm."

In March, the Alberta government announced it would spend $10 million to hire more RCMP officers, Crown prosecutors and civilian staff to deal with rural crime, driven by what the department called a "spike in criminal activity" and property crime in rural communities.

Alberta RCMP have said rural property crime in the province has jumped 23 per cent in five years.

David Heinze, president of the Okotoks and Area Rural Crime Watch Association, says more and more, he's hearing about crime happening at night, when residents are home.

"It used to be little groups who would break in during the day, being careful that you weren't there because they're weren't there to meet you, and they weren't likely to have guns," he said. "They were trying to get in, steal something and get out. They were trying not to confront anybody … but now we're talking about people coming in at night."

Eddie Maurice and his wife, Jessie, speak with reporters shortly after the criminal charges against him were dropped on June 22. (CBC)

The issue of rural crime was brought to the forefront in Alberta last week when charges were dropped against Eddie Maurice, 33, who was accused of shooting a trespasser on his property near Okotoks in February.

Crown prosecutor Jim Sawa withdrew charges of aggravated assault, pointing a firearm and careless use of a firearm. He said the Crown has conceded there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction.  

And in Saskatchewan this past February, Gerald Stanley, 56, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the August 2016 shooting death of Colten Boushie. The 22-year-old and four other young people had driven onto Stanley's rural property in an SUV. An altercation occurred and Boushie was shot in the head.

Victims of police-reported, firearm-related violent crime, by province or territory, in rural areas, per 100,000 population:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador — 18
  • P.E.I. — 19
  • Nova Scotia — 10
  • New Brunswick — 20
  • Ontario — 10
  • Manitoba — 50
  • Saskatchewan — 68
  • Alberta — 53
  • B.C. — 17
  • Yukon — 169
  • Northwest Territories — 112
  • Nunavut — 89
  • Canada — 30

With files from Helen Pike