Blue Line

Mounties warn against vigilantism after string of crimes on remote island in N.B.

July 14, 2023  By The Canadian Press

July 14, 2023, Fredericton, N.B. – Police in New Brunswick are warning against vigilantism after a string of crimes on a remote island in the Bay of Fundy, but a local politician says residents are becoming increasingly desperate.

RCMP are investigating three events on Deer Island, a small island connected by ferry to southwest New Brunswick. They said earlier this week that at the island’s ferry terminal, a vehicle was heavily damaged and fuel was stolen. They are also investigating a suspicious fire at an abandoned home.

Police have not specified how the events are connected or which of the three are examples of vigilantism. Spokesperson Cpl. Stephane Esculier turned down a request for an interview on Friday.

In an email statement, Esculier said Mounties do not condone members of the public taking policing matters into their own hands, which he said could result in someone being seriously injured or killed.

“We need communities and citizens to work together with us – legally and safely – in order to protect everyone,” he said.

Andrea Anderson-Mason, member of the legislature for Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West, which includes Deer Island, says residents and business owners in her riding are becoming increasingly desperate after dealing with increased rates of theft and crime.

But she says she wouldn’t characterize islanders as engaging in vigilante justice.

“This is an act of desperation,” she said. “This is about people feeling that they’re doing what they have to do in order to be protected and feel safe in their community, and make sure that their homes are safe for their loved ones.”

Residents are “at a tipping point,” Anderson-Mason said, as RCMP aren’t stationed on Deer Island, meaning police rely on the ferry to respond from the mainland.

She said her office has been receiving a rise in phone calls regarding break-and-enters and thefts.

“I feel it myself,” Anderson-Mason said in an interview Friday. “I know I’m keeping my doors locked, even when I get out of my car just to go to the market, because we’ve had cars stolen off of Main Street in St. George, which a few years ago was completely unheard of.”

People on the island, which has a population of approximately 700, “are very frustrated because they feel as though they pay the same level of taxes as everyone else, but don’t necessarily receive the same level of service.”

Bonnie Morse, mayor of Grand Manan, a larger island in the Bay of Fundy, says she’s also hearing more complaints of petty theft in her community of about 2,500 people.

“Unlocking your door, leaving your keys in the car, these are some things we grew up with,” she said, “and you just can’t do that anymore.”

Grand Manan has seen its share of high-profile vigilantism over the years, and “it’s not pretty,” the mayor says.

Earlier this year, the New Brunswick government announced $20 million in funding for 80 additional RCMP officers. The province said about 50 officers would be stationed in rural communities. The province’s Justice Department redirected all questions to RCMP.

Morse said she’s not sure more officers will address the key problems the island faces, which include drug addiction and mental health issues. Support services can be difficult to access across the province, but even more so in rural communities, where “your fate is determined by the ferry schedule,” she said.

“It’s easy to say it’s the RCMP because they’re on the front line, and they certainly have a role to play,” she added, “but it’s not as easy as saying, ‘let’s have more RCMP, that’ll fix everything,’ because I don’t think it will.”

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