The tragedy of the abduction of the two boys in Saskatchewan this week pointed out some of the mistaken beliefs about life in rural areas that a lot of Canadians have. As we watched the coverage of the distraught residents of Whitewood as they searched for their missing 10 year old, we heard comments like "We didn't think something like this could happen in a town like this". People have mistaken ideas that life in rural communities is some kind of Walden Pond back-to-the-land utopian existence. The truth is often ugly and unpleasant.
Isolated rural communities have a crime problem. There is a serious lack of police presence in most rural areas. I live in a town in Eastern Ontario, pop. 1500, which effectively has no police most of the time. The Ontario Provincial Police operate out of a detachment in a nearby town that is about 15 minutes away - they are responsible for a huge thinly-populated area which by definition makes response times ridiculously long when a crime is committed. At night, when the serious crimes are happening, this detachment is closed and calls to the OPP are referred to a dispatcher in a city even further away. When my house was burglarized a few years ago, it took the OPP 40 minutes to arrive. Criminals certainly know this - a local sporting goods store closed because it couldn't absorb the losses from night-time robberies any longer. In one incident, a van backed up to the storefront, smashed the display window, looted the store and drove off with time to spare before the police arrived. The local branch of the TD bank has been robbed in broad daylight several times since I've lived here.
Life for a lot of kids, especially teenagers, isn't a bed of roses out here either. Most teenagers in rural areas are bused to district high schools that can be very far from home and can involve hours on the road every day. Extra-curricular activities that urban kids take for granted are often out of reach for rural teens who don't have their own transportation. Even normal teenager partying can be hazardous - it usually involves field parties at some remote farm, and by definition involves alcohol and cars. The conventional wisdom here is that any car on a rural road after 1:00 am has a driver that has consumed alcohol.
Get sick or injured in a rural area? Good luck. I lived here for six years before I had a family doctor, and the nearest hospital is 40 minutes away. Doctors take new patients out here by lottery - you put your name in a hat and the lucky winners get a doctor! My dog gets better treatment - there are six veterinarians within a 30 km radius that I could see at a moment's notice, but no doctors taking new patients. If you live out here and need to see a specialist, or god-forbid a psychiatrist, my advice is to drive to Buffalo NY and take your VISA card.
Rural life has many rewards - I wouln't be living here otherwise. However, a lot of resources are poured into urban areas after crimes like Toronto's Boxing Day shooting, but nobody seems to have any serious ideas about dealing with the serious situation outside the GTA. Crime Stoppers, Neighbourhood Watch and Block Parents aren't good enough.