Beacons of hope in North Battleford, Canada's crime capital
Published Friday, September 28, 2018 7:00AM EDT
Claudia Turner is a success story in a community desperate for success stories.
I met her in a small city with a big crime problem. North Battleford, Saskatchewan has taken top spot in the Crime Severity Index every year since Statistics Canada first created the ranking back in 2009.
The index measures not only how often a crime is committed but also the severity of that crime.
North Battleford: number one in firearm offences; number one for breaking and entering; number One for assault. The rankings are fuelled by the curse of poverty, addiction and historical social issues.
The man in charge of trying to keeping North Battleford safe is RCMP Insp. John Sutherland. He says the crux of the city’s problems revolve around mental illness, addiction and historical wrongs.
“We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” the inspector told W5, sounding more like a social worker than a top cop.
Police, politicians and residents have banded together to come up with unorthodox ways of combatting the problem.
Local bylaw officers have been given enhanced powers so the RCMP has more time to handle serious crimes. A group of residents have banded together to create Citizens on Patrol, a volunteer program where RCMP trained volunteers drive city streets on the lookout for trouble.
Bright murals have been painted in dark alleys. Free solar powered lights are given to residents who agree to report suspicious behaviour.
Insp. Sutherland pointed to a small house in the downtown core as a shining light on the path to change. It’s called The Lighthouse, the city’s first and only homeless shelter. Sutherland tells me that last year alone they incarcerated 450 fewer people for intoxication because they were able to divert them to The Lighthouse.
It’s where I met 49 year old Claudia Turner. A single mum of 6 now grown children, Claudia struggled with addictions for years: “I was an alcoholic. I turned to alcohol to ease the pain, take away some of the hurts. Thank god today that I’m sober,” she told W5.
Claudia sat on her neatly made bed in the Sober Living Unit at the Lighthouse. Holding her proudest possession, a business card with her name on it, Claudia told me the shelter turned her life around.
One year clean, Claudia now has a job where she helps others access programs.
“I didn’t have a home. I didn’t have a place to live. There were nights where I was wondering where amI going to sleep tonight?” she said.
And then she found The Lighthouse.
“My life now is wonderful. I feel good about myself. I have a full-time job again and I’m sober and I like it. I’m sure if anybody else wanted to change, they can because there’s a lot of support .. [at The Lighthouse]. They could get you into programs. You just have to ask.”.
Watch W5's documentary 'Crimetown' Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV