Saskatchewan’s RCMP have a message for farmers who are carrying firearms during harvest following what is thought to have been the attempted robbery of a farmhand by three armed, masked men.
“Let us do our jobs,” said RCMP Sgt. Earl LeBlanc at a news conference on Wednesday, adding residents should not arm themselves “for their own protection or … to protect others.”
“We don’t want to see people getting hurt.”
His remarks follow an incident on a rural road in west-central Saskatchewan that struck fear into the hearts of farmers in the area, leading some to arm themselves.
“Yesterday was eventful,” said one, who sent CBC News a photo of the hunting rifle he now keeps in the cab of his combine. The farmer asked to remain anonymous.
“I guarantee you, everyone is carrying out here now.”
At around 11:40 a.m. CT on Monday the RCMP were called about three men with masked faces, wearing sunglasses and driving a black SUV. They had approached a worker from a local farm as he drove along a rural road, near Fiske, Sask., about 146 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon.
The men were out of their vehicle at the time and approached the truck on foot. Each was carrying a handgun, according to the RCMP.
The farmer who employs the worker said the man has years of military experience in an Eastern European war zone and responded instinctively.
“He sees the gun, the face masks and balaclavas and he just accelerates and goes right at the guys in the middle of the road.”
The farmer said his farmhand did not try to hit the armed men, but he did not stop or slow down.
The fear among farmers in the area, he told CBC, is related not just to yesterday’s incident, but to what he describes as a rural crime spree in the area.
“There was an enormous amount of break and enters in the town of Rosetown and around the town of Rosetown over the weekend,” he said.
RCMP officers said they are looking into several farmers’ reports of property thefts in the area over the past few days.
However, Sgt. LeBlanc didn’t have specific numbers on Wednesday.
“I can reassure you that we actually deal with any situation that comes forward and any person who reports a crime that we will investigate it accordingly,” he said.
“We’re aware that individuals will carry some firearms out for hunting reasons, or even farming reasons, but what we don’t want people to do is to carry them for their own protection or for what they feel that is to protect others,” he said.
He added that guns “must be properly secured, stowed, and used in accordance with the Criminal Code of Canada.”
RCMP detachments from Rosetown, Kindersley, Eston, Kerrobert, Biggar, Swift Current rural and North Battleford rural — as well as the Swift Current police and volunteers flying planes — responded to yesterday’s incident and continue to search for the armed men and the black SUV.
“They asked if I’d be willing to help them in a search,” said Colin Bevan, who runs Kindersley Air Spray. He flew a crop duster over the area yesterday afternoon, to search for the SUV.
“We seen one vehicle that looked very suspicious and suspect, and probably came down within 500 feet,” said Bevan. “As it turned out it was not the suspects’ vehicle, but it matched that description.”
‘Seems a bit surreal’
Schools in dozens of rural areas were placed on what police call “a hold and secure” state as a precaution yesterday.
More than half a dozen other farmers have sent CBC photos of the firearms they are now keeping in the cabs of their trucks and farm machinery. A number of farmers say it takes the RCMP between 30 minutes and a hour to reach them in an emergency.
“Seems a little surreal,” said Bevan. “My question is, what were [the armed men] intending to do because there’s just not much out there.”
With the men still at large, he was not surprised farmers in west-central Saskatchewan now feel leery as they harvest their crops.
“I think a lot of people are apprehensive and are taking measures to make sure they’re not caught off-guard or by surprise,” he said.
The RCMP are asking anyone with information to call their local detachment. They urge people not to directly approach the men, who may be armed.