Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/9/2020 (217 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Like all Manitobans, I’ve been asked by Justice Minister Cliff Cullen to offer feedback on possible changes to legislation on rural crime, metal theft and biosecurity on farms.
I happen to have free time (stopped watching the NHL playoffs when the Jets lost, the Bombers can’t play this year and I knew my recreational life had bottomed out when I was tempted to watch Indian Matchmaking on Netflix).
When I accepted Cullen’s invitation to offer my opinions on the site https://engagemb.ca, I found way more than I had bargained for.
The questionnaire is introduced by a note from Cullen that states: "In 2017, Manitoba’s rural overall crime rate was 42 per cent higher than its urban overall crime rate." That would be alarming, except a check with Statistics Canada shows Cullen is framing his questionnaire with only a partial truth.
Yes, the 42 per cent is accurate when all rural rates are combined, but there’s a striking divide in Manitoba rural crime rates between north and south. In northern rural areas, more than 32 crimes per 100 people are reported; in southern rural areas, it’s about six crimes per 100 people, which is lower than the urban crime rate of eight per 100. That seems to indicate rural areas in southern Manitoba are safer than cities in Manitoba. There are two possible reasons Cullen didn’t give complete information: he didn’t know, or, more likely, he knew, but acknowledging the relative safety of country living in southern Manitoba goes against the government’s desire to seem tough on crime in rural areas.
After Cullen’s misleading introduction, and long before the questionnaire offers any questions to answer, it recounts at length the current legislation. This section is expressed in 12,041 words, as measured in the word-count function of my laptop, and is written in language that’s near-impenetrable to anyone without a law degree. I confess I didn’t read all 12,041 words before I moved on.
I found and clicked on a button that said Provide Feedback, which brought up the questions that, supposedly, are the purpose of the questionnaire. But before I could submit my answers, the form asked that I first review a separate section that lists Possible Amendments and Possible New Legislation.
Wanting to be a conscientious questionnaire participant, I called up the background I was supposed to read before answering the questions. Combined, the four sections are 1,949 words. It seemed like a lot of reading to get through before I could answer the questions, but I understand changing legislation is important. I took a deep breath and started to read.
I was dismayed to find the section titled Possible Amendments to Manitoba’s Petty Trespass Act is a misnomer. It doesn’t mention what amendments Manitoba is considering for cases of petty trespassing. It just details Saskatchewan and Alberta legislation on this issue.
It’s the same problem with the section Possible Amendments to The Occupiers Liability Act. Despite the section title, the closest it comes to describing any possible amendments to the act is one single sentence, which is as clear as mud: "It may not be reasonable to hold land owners/occupiers to the existing Manitoba general duty of care for persons who enter their property to commit criminal acts or enter property without permission where the size of the land makes it impossible for the land owner to know that they will be on the property and warn them of or remove potential hazards."
The disappointment continued under the section Possible Amendments to Animal Diseases Act, which offered few specifics about possible amendments beyond this cryptic hint: "Manitoba is exploring potential legislation that would protect biosecurity at food production premises where livestock or other animals are being kept in order to protect animals from hazards that may compromise food safety." It doesn’t say why biosecurity is suddenly so critical that it needs legislative action.
It wasn’t all bleak, though. The fourth section, titled New Metal Dealers and Recyclers Legislation, gave a wonderfully clear and concise statement of the government’s intention. Turns out the province is considering legislation that would make sellers and buyers of scrap metal keep written records, like pawn shops already do. This would create a paper trail to help police catch thieves who steal metal.
When I finally got to answer the questions, it felt like an exercise in which the results are a forgone conclusion. Few people champion criminals, and it’s highly unlikely people will advise the province to go soft on rural crime.
I wish the form had one more question: do you believe this questionnaire was nothing more than a public relations exercise to make it appear the government listens to rural citizens, its traditional base of support?
Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.
Senior copy editor
Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.