Calling Lake residents calling for solutions to crime in the hamlet filled a Municipal District (MD) of Opportunity council meeting Aug. 22.
Approximately 18 citizens attended the meeting as part of a delegation seeking government response to property crime in the area. The meeting followed the circulation of an online petition asking for a part or full-time RCMP detachment in Calling Lake, which amassed 327 signatures as of Aug. 26.
The contingent included executive and members of the Calling Lake Cottage Association. Past chair of the association Kathy Stubbs presented to the MD council on property crime and recounted anecdotes of people whose homes had been broken into and robbed.
“People in this community need some help,” Stubbs said. “Residents are afraid in this community due to the crime wave.”
Stubbs also recommended an RCMP detahcment in Calling Lake and said a task force featuring neighbouring communities and other governmental agencies should work together to try to address the issue.
Calling Lake Cottage Association member David Guthrie said the association has pushed for more policing in the community for decades.
“This is has been the push for the cottage association for over 30 years to have proper policing in this community. Proactive versus reactive,” Guthrie said, adding people are afraid to leave their homes alone. “It’s not fair that nobody should have to have that feeling shadowing over to them.”
Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette attended the meeting and said the province has funded more police officers and civilian staff, as well as newer crime reduction units working across the province to targeting repeat offenders. He added he has also been in touch with Alberta Justice about a detachment in Calling Lake.
“Just to see what the guidelines are, if that’s feasible and if so, how we could make it happen. That is something I am looking for right now,” he said.
Resident Wilf Brooks said issues affects the whole community and addressing crime goes beyond just crime suppression.
“I believe that recreation and education is a huge tool. I think anyone in this room who thinks our education hasn’t failed us the last 20 years just got their blinders on,” Brooks said during the meeting. “They all work hand-in-hand with suppression teams.”
Athabasca RCMP staff Sgt. Paul Gilligan also attended the meeting. He said RCMP had a crime reduction sweep through the area the weekend of Aug. 18 seizing guns, stolen property and making arrests. But he added RCMP are being reactive, limiting what they can do.
“Time and distance between Athabasca and here is a big problem,” Gilligan said during the meeting. “I don’t disagree we need more police officers, certainly in a short term to get ahold of the situation. I fully support everyone’s efforts here.”
Athabasca RCMP provided statistics showing at least 87 break-ins reported so far this year in Calling Lake. That is more than the 51 break-ins reported in all of 2017 and the 87 break-ins reported in all of 2016, according to Athabasca RCMP staff Sgt. Paul Gilligan.
MD of Opportunity Reeve Marcel Auger said the municipality would bring the issue to the table at an upcoming meeting with regional RCMP and try to take a lead role in creating a task force.
“We’re not going to be able to solve it 100 per cent. But if we can move in the right direction and try some different things and see what works, what doesn’t work, try to move forward and then remedy some of these situations,” he said during the meeting.
The petition on Calling Lake crime was started by part-time Calling Lake resident Tim Siewert who said he wants to get people together to address the problem.
“I’ve got lots of friends who own out there and everybody gets broken into,” Siewert said in an interview. “We need a new solution. I want to try to get people to write their MLA and MP, try to get the political will to affect the change. Not just for the short term, but the long term.”
Siewert said distance between Athabasca and Calling Lake is an issue.
“By the time they get the call, it’s not quick,” Siewert said, adding there is a need for community-based policing in the hamlet. “Where the police are present in town on a much more regular basis. Where they interact positively with the community, so that way not all the interactions are negative.”
Calling Lake resident Cheri Courtielle supports the petition and said she gets broken into every summer as she works during road construction season.
“We just get to the point it happens so much you don’t even bother reporting it,” she said. “It’s just ridiculous. It’s just too much.”
Courtielle said there is not as much positive interactions between RCMP and Calling Lake residents as there used to be, with officers appearing at things like community events.
“That makes a big difference because it puts more trust into them. They’re seeing in a different light that they’re human too,” Courtielle said.
Siewert said a physical edition of the petition has also amassed over 100 signatures.
Elected officials respond
MD of Opportunity Coun. Victor Gladue, who represents Calling Lake, said in an interview property crime is not a new problem.
“It’s been an ongoing thing for a long time,” Gladue said, adding property crime has also been increasing in other parts of the province. “Break-ins have been happening for quite a while now, many years. I know some people feel that it’s getting worse.”
Gladue noted the municipality pays for two additional officers at the Athabasca RCMP detachment dedicated to the Calling Lake area. He further said it would be good to have some type of RCMP detachment in Calling Lake, but it would have to be negotiated with the province.
“That’s our goal. I know we’ve been trying to do that,” he said. “But those are the things that I think we can try to negotiate the province, if we can have our own.”
Piquette said he is engaging with residents on the issue.
“Nobody should have to live in fear of somebody in their place, potentially cause them harm,” Piquette said. “I do understand the residents are worried and I’m frustrated with what’s happening.”
Root causes of crime
Issues like employment and drug addiction are part of the root causes of crime in Calling Lake, Gladue said. He added the community also lacks support services.
“Addictions, mental health and stuff like that. We’re covered from Athabasca or Wabasca,” he said. “We don’t have mental stuff like that in our community. We don’t have support services like that.”
Siewert also identified issues such as youth programming in Calling Lake and high school graduation rates that are also contributing to people turning to crime.
“It’s not youth programs alone, it’s not school alone, it’s all spokes in a wheel,” Siewert said, later adding policing is just part of the solution to the issue. “You need to address the root of the issue.”
Cottages biggest target for thieves
RCMP statistics broke down the 87 reported break-ins in 2018, with 57 at seasonal cottages, 12 at businesses, seven at residences and 11 in the “other” category.
Piquette said summer villages are particularly vulnerable to crime.
“That’s for the simple reason that a lot of these residences aren’t occupied for most of the week and so for someone with a criminal bent, that’s an attractive target,” he said.
Siewert said people with recreational properties are being stolen from by people without the means to buy those things. But he added drug addictions are a significant part in criminal motivation as well.
“You’re not having people stealing to feed their kids. They’re stealing to feed their drug habit,” Siewert said.
He added crime is an issue affecting everyone in Calling Lake, not just part-time residents. The entire community needs to come together to address the problem, Siewert said.
“Full time, part-time, cottage owners, it affects us all. Everyone’s being broken into here,” he said. “Everyone in the community needs to have a voice.”
Working towards a solution
In a presentation to MD of Opportunity council following the citizen delegation, Gilligan said he is trying to direct more resources toward Calling Lake, including more overtime hours and reducing administrative duties for Calling Lake dedicated officers. He also said he hopes to have a provincial crime reduction unit go through Calling Lake again when possible.
“I can come to you and honestly tell you with what we have, we’re doing a good job. The members are working very hard but it’s not a clean, easy task that we have and we need to work with the community,” Gilligan said during the meeting.
Gilligan said he plans to work with residents to organize a town hall meeting in Calling lake in September to address crime in the area. In an interview, Gilligan added he hopes the meeting can gather good input.
“Good dialogue and understanding of the community on what we’re doing and getting input form the community on what they think could be done to improve the situation,” he said.