By J.W. Schnarr
Issues with young Mennonites causing disturbances and ignoring local laws are not just a Taber problem – and a lack of manpower with the RCMP could be compounding things for local residents.
During their regular meeting on March 16, Coun. Martin Kondor addressed Taber/Vauxhall RCMP Cst. Justin Buit over Vauxhall’s lack of consistent policing and, in particular, the town’s struggles in dealing with young Mennonite gatherings.
“(Taber) has pretty much got the same problem as we’ve got,’ said Kondor. “You can’t deal with it. There’s big packs out there that (RCMP) can’t deal with, one-on-one.”
“It’s out of control,” he added. “And when it gets warm, it’s just going to get worse.”
But Kondor stopped short of supporting a bylaw initiative similar to the Community Standards Bylaw in Taber, which caused a social media firestorm during the first two weeks of March.
“You can’t do what they did,” he said. “We’re not going to go that route.”
But Buit defended the Community Standards Bylaw in Taber, saying it gave law enforcement another option for dealing with unruly residents.
“Basically, those bylaws are all in the Criminal Code,” said Buit. “The bylaw is just a lesser offence. So it’s actually benefitting people that are getting charged with the bylaw. For us, are we going to charge a guy for swearing? Technically probably we wouldn’t. But now you could just write the bylaw ticket. So it’s a lesser offence.”
“I think the bylaw is a good thing for Taber,” he added.
Kondor said Mennonite gatherings can be even larger out on the country, and policing those gatherings has been hindered by use of technology on the part of young people.
Use of social media has been identified as a way for young to stay ahead of law enforcement in the area.
“For our sites, they come and just do a mass party,” he said. “And as soon as (police) get called, a mass text goes out, and everybody just scatters like rats. And they are gone.”
“Any time we come around, there’s nobody around,” said Buit. “We spend an hour here and as soon as we leave, they are back at it.”
“It’s not fair to you guys,” said Kondor. “You go out to a party and there is 400 kids out there.”
Buit said the strategy in dealing with those parties is to park at the entrance and check the drivers to make sure they are not driving intoxicated.
“Every vehicle has alcohol in it,” he said, adding in many cases, the alcohol was being stored safely, though driving under the influence of alcohol remains a major concern.
Kondor said he didn’t understand why there wasn’t more of an issue regarding alcohol in vehicles belonging to young Mennonites. He noted the inability of local police to properly handle large gatherings is compounded because Mennonite youths realize they represent too large of a target for policing.
“That’s the problem,” Kondor said. “They know they can get away with it so they just get a big group, and then nobody will deal with it.”
Buit said in those cases, the strategy is to observe and then “pick them off” when the party eventually breaks up.
“If a guy’s being not nice to us, we’ll catch him later,” he said. “They have to leave eventually.”
Kondor said it’s apparent the Taber/Vauxhall RCMP detachment needs more members.
“I wouldn’t walk in there by myself either, he said. “There ain’t a chance in the world. I don’t care what I was packing.”
“It’s not fair to the public, and it’s not fair to you guys that you are understaffed,” he added.
The detachment, which provides policing to all of the hamlets in the M.D. of Taber, including the Town of Vauxhall, has been short staffed for the past year, according to Buit. Holdups with a new commanding officer has seen the senior constable for the detachment tied up with leadership duties. The Advance has reported in the past that often there might be only two officers or even a single officer on duty to police thousands of kilometres in areas.
“We definitely need a couple more guys,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Richard Phillips said a lack of consistent policing has had an impact on the town in the form of people moving out of the area.
“We’ve actually had people leave town because of the lawlessness of it,” he said. “We’re slowly dying in a sense because of it.”
Buit said RCMP numbers are largely dictated by the number of Criminal Code charges laid in an area.
“Sometimes we lay 30, sometimes we get one or two,” he said.
Phillips went on to say an increase in chasing down intoxicated drivers might boost those numbers.
“As you drive the highways in the M.D. of Taber, there’s way more beer cans per kilometre than most places in the province,” he said. “Clearly you have an epidemic of drinking and driving around here.”
“We’re trying our best for the manpower we have here,” said Buit. He encouraged council to discuss the issue with other municipalities in the area.