The community of Calling Lake grappled with the hamlet’s crime, history and hurt at a town hall meeting organized by Athabasca RCMP Sept. 15.
Over 60 people gathered alongside RCMP officials, representatives from the Municipal District (MD) of Opportunity and Bigstone Cree Nation, as well as Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette to discuss crime at the Calling Lake Recreation Centre. The meeting was aimed at addressing a spike in property crime in the Calling Lake, which has seen 89 break-and-enters reported this year compared to 42 all of last year, according to Athabasca RCMP staff Sgt. Paul Gilligan.
Gilligan said in opening remarks the meeting was a chance to address crime and ensure citizen concerns are heard by RCMP and various levels of government.
“This is a problem. It’s like an onion. There are hundreds of layers to it,” Gilligan said during the meeting.
But in the question and answer portion of the meeting, Indigenous Calling Lake residents stepped forward to discuss the roots of crime in the community, frustrations with the community’s circumstances and experiences with racism.
Danny Cardinal was the first resident to speak and said there are people suffering in the community of Calling Lake.
“We have community meetings; it’s always the same people that come pouring. We do try to think of ways to help our people. But what I see in our community is our people are suffering. They’re not criminals. They’re suffering in addictions. They’re suffering in lifestyles. They’re suffering in poverty. They have no means to look into the future,” Cardinal said.
He said punishment is not the answer for his people.
“Our traditional teachings are not punishment. Our solutions is not to jail people forever because of their addictions,” he said.
Cardinal said people have to work co-operatively.
“We should respect each other when we live together,” Cardinal said. “Our teaching is in the eyes of the Creator, we are all his children. But also as Aboriginal people, we need to be heard. We don’t need to be colonized and told what to do. We need to be respected in how we want to do things and how we think, and that may solve quite a bit of these problems.”
RCMP “K” Division Supt. Mike Good stepped forward to address the crowd after the speech and thanked Cardinal for making it.
“No matter what we do from a policing perspective or a crime prevention perspective, we’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Good said, adding RCMP is committed with working with First Nations and other organizations to address issues like addictions and mental health.
Police’s latest efforts
In the opening part of the meeting, Gilligan discussed RCMP efforts and the push by community members to address crime in Calling Lake so far.
Gilligan said he was taking steps such as eliminating administrative duties for Calling Lake’s enhanced RCMP officers, funded by the MD of Opportunity. Overtime was also being offered for members willing to patrol Calling Lake at night, Gilligan said.
Gilligan also said he had brought the district’s crime reduction unit into Calling Lake repeatedly to help find stolen property, which he said resulted in the apprehension of four prolific offenders.
But Gilligan acknowledged the problem goes beyond apprehending suspects.
“Everbody here can recognize this problem is greater than just a policing issue,” Gilligan said, adding courts are not holding people fully accountable and the underlying issues of criminality are not being addressed. “We want to move into a phase where, hopefully, we see a decrease and we can start taking proactive approaches within the community.”
Gilligan also discussed a presentation by members of the Calling Lake Cottage Association at the Aug. 22 MD of Opportunity Council meeting, where he and Piquette were also present, to discuss crime in Calling Lake. He also mentioned a petition circulated amongst residents and presented to Piquette asking for action on crime.
RCMP Eastern Alberta District assistant commander Supt. Mark Hancock discussed efforts by the crime reduction unit to address Calling Lake’s crime and encouraged people to report incidents to police. He added he wants to see officers engaged in the community.
“We don’t want faceless policing. You want to know your police members,” he said.
Linda Gladue spoke during the question and answer section, and said the community needs to come together to address its problems.
“A community does not go into directions and some overly blame all these kids for all their problems. A community has to work together,” Gladue said, adding frustration over being told to assimilate. “Try to understand us. We are hurting. Our children are caught in two worlds.”
“Don’t come here and judge us. Try to help us. But the community doesn’t end where the pavement ends,” Gladue added, earning applause.
Gladue also called into question how Calling Lake was being represented in the media, referring to a radio interview posted on CBC’s website July 31 and an online article posted Aug. 1 discussing crime in Calling Lake.
“That was such an unfair interview to go on CBC and say that take a stand on crime. What the hell does that mean?” Gladue said, “Everybody here has lost something. Many of us have had stuff taken away. You don’t see us making headlines.”
Charity Jardine spoke next, saying the police must work to address the historically fractured relationship it has with First Nations people and avoid incidents of racial profiling.
“What can your department do to address remediation or reconciliation, which is a word that I haven’t heard yet and I should have heard it from the beginning?” Jardine said. “Because without that process, we’re just spinning in circles here.”
Hancock responded to Jardine and said each investigation is done on its own merits, without racial profiling. He also said he expects officers to treat everyone in the community well.
“I fully expect members to treat everyone in the community the same. With respect, honesty, integrity, compassion. These are all things the RCMP life by,” Hancock said.
Working towards solutions
Bigstone Cree Nation Coun. Gloria Anderson said Calling Lake is not working together as a community, and people have to understand each other.
“Yes, our community needs help. But what kind of help is that going to be? Kids being put in jail? Labelling our community? That’s not going to help,” she said, adding the community needs resources to address drug addiction.
She added new programming aimed at addressing the problems of Calling Lake needs to be done in consultation with the community to be successful.
“Let’s bring forward a solution,” Anderson said. “If you have money, bring it forward.”
MD of Opportunity Coun. Victor Gladue, who represents Calling Lake, said there has to be some direction after the meeting.
“Where do we go from here?” Gladue said. “These meetings are meant for solutions, not divisions.”
The Calling Lake Cottage Association had proposed an RCMP detachment in Calling Lake.
Good made it clear that is not imminent.
“There is no plan to build a detachment in Calling Lake,” he said, but adding the district’s crime reduction unit, which targets crime hotspots in the region, will remain a fixture in the province.
In closing, Gilligan said people should contact him if they have concerns with how specific incidents are being handled by RCMP.
“I will hold my members accountable to you for the services they deliver,” Gilligan said. “Thank you very much for participating today. Hopefully, good things come from this.”
Jardine said the meeting brought the focus onto the source of Calling Lake’s issues and away from property.
“That’s appropriate. That’s the only way we’re going to move forward,” she said.
She further said she does think the community can come together to address issues if people are willing to volunteer the time.
“We may not get a lot of resources from the government to deal with this, but we have enough resources in people,” she said. “Whereas before the MD’s arranging this for us —well, maybe now community members are going to have to start arranging things for us to do to come together as a community.”