Crime, Published Articles

Drug bust, 122 charges laid

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Four people from the Woodlands County area are facing a combined 122 charges after a large drug and gun bust, police announced on March 23.

Whitecourt RCMP and Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) concluded a two-month investigation with their execution of search warrants on March 14 at a Whitecourt home and a Woodlands County rural residence.

Police seized more than $30,000 worth of drugs — 310 grams of cocaine, 77 Percocet pills and 119 methadone pills — as well as three handguns, three shotguns and 16 rifles. They also seized a cocaine press and $8,580 cash from drug deals.

“A bust like this is quite significant for Whitecourt,” said ALERT communications director Mike Tucker. “None of those guns were lawfully possessed and we believe they pose a significant public safety risk.”

Tucker said that the nine days between the raid and its announcement was the result of tying up the investigation’s loose ends.

“There could be elements that are still ongoing,” he said.

According to ALERT’s news release, “in at least three instances firearms were lawfully acquired before being diverted into the hands of suspected criminals.”

The investigation began with a tip about alleged drug trafficking, Tucker said.

“This began with information that was received on this group. We believed that they were trafficking cocaine in the Whitecourt area and some of the surrounding communities. We worked hand-in-hand with detachment there to develop intel and enforcement strategy,” he said.

Tucker declined to disclose how many officers and agents were involved in the investigation.

Whitecourt Mayor Maryann Chichak praised this collaboration between the local RCMP and ALERT.

“This investigation and outcome is a great example of how ALERT works collaboratively with the Whitecourt RCMP Detachment to address serious crime issues. Our community appreciates and values the work that ALERT does throughout the province and in our community to keep our residents safe,” she said in a news release.

The 122 charges are spread amongst four people.

Jeffrey Smith, 30, from Whitecourt faces 29 charges; Clayton Taylor, 23, from Woodlands County faces 45 charges; and Alyssa Leakvold, 25, from Woodlands county faces 45 charges.

Dustin Jennings, 24, of Fort Assiniboine faces an additional three charges for firearms trafficking offences.

They are slated to appear at Whitecourt Provincial Court on March 28.

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Canadian Politics (Provincial), Opinion, Published Articles

The virtues of Daylight Savings Time

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Daylight Savings Time (DST), when we move our clocks forward an hour in anticipation of springtime, has acquired a bad reputation.

NDP MLA Thomas Dang, with the support of PC MLA and leadership candidate Richard Starke, recently introduced a private member’s bill in Alberta legislature that would abolish DST in the Wildrose province, syncing its time zone up with Saskatchewan’s central time, saying, “It’s time we had one time.” In most parts of Saskatchewan, moving their clocks forward is a thing of the past.

The practice has been in Alberta since it was introduced by plebiscite in 1971 and now Starke wants to have a plebiscite on its removal. Dang said 82 per cent of respondents to a government-commissioned survey said they want to end DST.

Sure, nobody likes to have to start waking up an hour early in the middle of March, but DST is still quite valuable. Many people enjoy the longer days during the summer and their attendant social and health benefits — more vitamin D, increased exercise, more time spent socializing and overall improvements in mental health, according to the American National Institute of Health — as a result of the time-shift.

HBO comedian John Oliver, whom I often find myself agreeing with, criticized DST last year, arguing that it’s an anachronism from a time when Western societies were largely agrarian and farmers required maximal daylight. It serves no practical purpose today and may in fact cause harm due to the loss of sleep, he contended.

But, this explanation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Farmers have long been opposed to DST, since their livestock don’t adjust well to the time changes. In fact, Dang said farmers overwhelmingly support his legislation.

Perhaps the provincial government is trying to reach out to farmers after their farm safety legislation, Bill 6, upset that community.

TV executives are also not fans of the time change, but for entirely different reasons — people don’t watch as much television when they’re enjoying the outdoors. Maybe that explains Oliver’s opposition.

The original goal of DST was to save night time energy use by having the sun up until later. It was introduced in post-World War I Germany to save on coal for that devastated economy. The impact of DST on energy use is highly debatable, but it’s a goal the provincial NDP ought to be sympathetic to, given their emphasis on energy preservation.

There are indeed widespread benefits to having more daylight in spring and summer, although the time adjustment is not without its possible hazards, as Oliver alluded to in his segment.

For instance, according to Dan Nosowitz of Popular Mechanics, traffic accidents tend to increase in the week following the March clock change, as drivers tend to be sluggish from losing an hour of sleep. However, since people tend to drive better in the light, Nosowitz suspects that there would be a decrease in accidents throughout DST’s eight-month duration.

Having it stay light out later also results in an overall decrease in crime. “The reason is simple: crimes tend to happen much more often in darkness. Extend the daylight, and crimes, especially outdoor crimes like muggings, go down,” writes Nosowitz.

So no matter how you put it, DST is a mixed bag — people lose a bit of sleep, which has negative consequences, but they also spend more time outdoors, with positive results.

In other words, “DST is both a rebellion against the clock and an acceptance that we are all slaves to the clock,” writes Nosowitz.

It’s far from perfect, but eliminating it is no magic bullet.

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Crime, Published Articles

Stabbing suspect denied bail

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Dillon Coulson, the man who turned himself into police in relation to a stabbing at a party, was denied bail on March 9 at Mayerthorpe Provincial Court.

Crown prosecutor Trevor Peeters successfully argued that Coulson cannot be trusted to abide by any bail terms, since he, “poses a substantial risk to re-offend.”

“His detention is necessary to maintain confidence in the administration of justice,” he said, noting that Coulson has been previously convicted of assaulting a peace officer, uttering threats and multiple charges of no compliance with the terms of release — seven in the past year alone.

According to the Crown, Mayerthorpe RCMP received a report around 5 a.m. on Jan. 28, 2017, of a man stabbed four times — once in the abdomen, twice in the back and once on his fingers.

“There are multiple third party witnesses who can corroborate that the accused committed the stabbing,” said Peeters.

One witness admitted to driving Coulson from the scene of the crime, he said.

Another witnessed the assault at a house party, providing the knife it was committed with to the police.

According to Peeters, the second witness said the two men had been in a fight, which escalated when the complainant hit the accused in the head with a metal bat.

“His demeanour immediately changed,” the second witness allegedly told the police.

Coulson then allegedly punched the victim and stabbed him.

“I blacked out and completely lost it. If I did it, I don’t regret it,” the accused told police after he turned himself in.

The accused was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault, which is a violation of the terms of his probation for a past conviction, the Crown said.

The Town of Mayerthorpe has a serious problem with crime commitment under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he added.

“The community would be outraged if he was given release,” Peeters said.

Defence lawyer Gordon Collins said that Coulson’s actions, rash as they were, resulted from the trauma of being hit in the head with a bat.

“The fight was a wrestling match until the victim picked up a metal bat,” he said, arguing that Coulson’s actions were criminal but not his intentions.

Since he can’t remember the stabbing, it’s irrelevant whether he expressed remorse or not, Collins added.

“If he’s convicted, he’s looking at some serious time,” he said. “No doubt about that.”

Collins asked that Coulson be granted bail under the condition that he live with his parents in Sangudo.

Peeters argued that living with his parents wouldn’t make Coulson anymore likely to abide by the terms of his release.

Judge John Higgerty agreed with Peeters, denying Coulson’s bail due to his extensive criminal record.

“Suffice it to say, 2016 was a very bad year for this man,” said Higgerty, citing his seven breaches of the terms of his release and conviction for uttering threats.

“He’s demonstrated a lack of adherence to the directives of the court,” he said. “I have no confidence whatsoever that he’ll obey the terms of his release.”

Coulson appeared in court via CCTV from the Edmonton Remand Centre.

His trial is scheduled for June 8, which will take the full day.

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Canadian Politics (Provincial), Published Articles

Province prepares for early wildfire season

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Whitecourt and area residents will have to be extra careful with their campfires earlier on this year.

Wildfire season in Alberta is starting a month earlier than usual — on March 1 rather than April 1.

“That gives the opportunity for our crews to get their equipment ready and do recruitment when they need to and hit the ground running when they have to,” said Oneil Carlier, Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry and the MLA for Whitecourt-St. Anne.

He said moving the start of wildfire season earlier has been on the province’s radar since the 2011 Slave Lake wildfires, but the NDP government is now putting it into law.

“It’s becoming increasingly important. The fact is that close to 70 per cent of the wildfires now are caused by humans, so all of us as Albertans can do better … and we should,” said Carlier.

Shannon Stambaugh, information officer for the Whitecourt Wildfire Management Area, said the issuing of permits for planned fires is a key component of the town’s strategy for combating wildfires.

“By allowing us to know where those fires are going to happen, we then know how to strategically look for fires,” she said.

The permits also come with a list of safety standards the town recommends for safe burning practices, said Stambaugh.

“It gives general guidelines for how individuals can burn safely and practically,” she said. For example, the town forbids burning when winds are 15 km/h or more.

“We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can control what humans do,” Stambaugh said.

Carlier said the natural fires can be alleviated using the latest technology.

The wildfires that aren’t attributable to human activity “are almost 100 per cent lightning strikes,” he said.

“There’s some really interesting technology out there where the department can track lightning storms and actually track the strikes. Even though we’ve had some bad fire seasons in the past few years, the vast majority of fires are tracked almost instantly and are put out within 24 hours,” said Carlier.

He said another way for governments to reduce forest fires is to increase corporate fines to a maximum of $1 million from $5,000, which has already been done in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Carlier stressed that the government wants to encourage people to enjoy the wilderness, but to do so in a smart, safe manner.

“Please go out and enjoy our wildlands, our forests and our prairies. We live in a beautiful province. But if you do so, please act responsibly. Make sure your campfire is out. Make sure you’re not that person that causes a wildfire,” he said.

Whitecourt and area residents can call 780-778-7272 to order their free fire permit at least a week before they want to use it.

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