It’s a term that some call nothing more than racist code, but for Nick Cornea, it is a reality that people in Canada’s cities and towns simply don’t understand.
Cornea, a 28 year-old husband and father of three, farms near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and is now at the forefront of a debate that has moved from the farm field to Parliament Hill. This week the Conservatives announced that they want the House of Commons Public Safety Committee to study trends in rural crime.
“I don’t know anyone that farms around here that hasn’t had to deal with this,” Cornea said during a telephone interview from his farm.
After growing frustrated with a lack of understanding about an issue he says is real and growing, Cornea started the Facebook Group, Farmers Against Rural Crime. It has grown from a few people he knew to more than 15,000 members in a matter of weeks.
“I’m absolutely shocked on how fast the support has grown for this page. People from coast to coast joining and showing their support,” Cornea said.
He’s had people join not just from Saskatchewan and neighbouring Alberta but from across the country. One farmer from the Annapolis Valley wrote to tell him they deal with similar problems in Nova Scotia.
So what are the problems?
Mostly theft but also vandalism and when you are in an isolated area, the threat of crime is never too far.
“Anywhere from 45 min to 3 hours depending on the severity of what that person is doing,” Cornea says when asked how long it would take for police to arrive at his farm if he called in with an active complaint.
RCMP under staffing is a known problem in rural Saskatchewan and that leads to long waits for police to arrive. In a city you can expect police within 15 minutes, that isn’t realistic for Cornea or most other farmers that have joined his group.
He hopes the group, which is showing strength in numbers, can convince politicians that something needs to be done. But as Cornea tries to do that, he must also battle against those trying to paint him and his group as a bunch of racists.
“In Saskatchewan ‘rural crime’ is a dog whistle term that means aboriginal people,” wrote Postmedia columnist Doug Cuthand last summer.
It’s a theme that has been expanded upon time and again by people that Cornea says don’t understand the problem. While he admits that in some areas, farmers do complain about problems with crime and nearby reserves, he says in his area it’s often committed as part of an initiation for street gangs from Regina.
“They get dropped off out here and have to steal so much or commit crime to get in,” Cornea said.
In Alberta he says he is mostly getting reports of crime on farms as a result of the economic downturn. Cornea says the reasons behind rural crime vary from place to place and are complex and he denies that the concern with rural crime has anything to do with racism.
“It hurts me that people banding together for change would be called racist,” Cornea said. “I have made many posts about how we do not put up with any racial terms or statements. I have a group of people that spend their spare time reading through memberships, posts and comments making sure people stay professional and things do not go across the line and become racial.”
Yet in the wake of the Gerald Stanley trial and his acquittal on second degree murder in the death of Coulten Bousie, race is everywhere.
The latest cover story for Macleans documents the sense of fear and betrayal that Indigenous people and white, rural residents both feel. Writer Kyle Edwards, himself an Anishinaabe from Manitoba, writes of the tension between both sides in much of the province.
And yet perhaps to illustrate Cornea’s point, some 700 kilometres away from Moose Jaw, Okotoks farmer Edouard Maurice is facing charges for shooting and injuring a man that was trying to steal from his farm in the early morning hours on February 25.
The shooting, coming just two weeks after the Stanley verdict, hasn’t received nation-wide attention because both the man doing the shooting and the man that was shot are white.
But for rural residents, the Maurice case is another example of the frustration they feel as crime increases and they are left to fend for themselves.
“This is not a problem, but a full blown epidemic,” Cornea said.
Now that politicians are noticing his group, he’s hoping that might change.