By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on March 14, 2018.
Rural landowners are feeling under attack. Statistics show that property crime in rural areas is climbing, but rural residents feel powerless to prevent it.
At issue is to what lengths rural homeowners can go to protect their property from theft.
A rural landowner in the Calgary area, Edouard Maurice, is facing aggravated assault and firearms charges after confronting two people rummaging through his vehicles. Police reported shots were fired and a suspect was later found with an arm injury.
The case, following on the heels of the recent trial of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, who was acquitted in the shooting death of an indigenous man, has ramped up the debate over the rights of rural residents in defending their property from intruders.
In a Canadian Press story in Tuesday’s Herald, Kevin Avram of the Grassroots Alberta Landowners Association suggested homeowners shouldn’t be penalized for trying to protect their property.
“Many landowners are getting the very distinct impression that the criminal element of the province is being sent a signal – and the signal is that landowners are free prey,” said Avram.
In the same story, Alberta RCMP Supt. John Bennett noted rural property crime has grown by 23 per cent over the past five years, though violent crimes are down over that period.
“We understand completely that people feel vulnerable and frustrated,” said Bennett.
However, Bennett encouraged residents to leave the task of confronting suspected criminals to the police instead of tackling the situation themselves.
“You never know how someone may react when confronted,” Bennett said. “We don’t want to see anyone getting hurt.”
That is a potential outcome of landowners taking matters into their own hands. If robbery suspects prove to be armed, it could be the rural homeowners who wind up injured or worse. That’s a situation police want to avoid in issuing their warnings.
But to the landowners, it seems the justice system is on the side of the criminals and turned against them when they see homeowners charged for trying to defend their property. Bill Ferguson, who lives near Vulcan, was one of about 150 rural landowners who showed up at the Okotoks courthouse in support of Maurice.
“This is something that a lot more of us are going to run into if there’s not some change in our laws,” Ferguson said in a Canadian Press story. “I feel it’s ridiculous that we can’t protect our own home and family.”
Eric Johaniuk of High River expressed a similar sentiment, noting, “The problem is the crooks are getting nothing. It’s just a laugh. You have no right to defend yourself.”
In Tuesday’s CP story, RCMP Sgt. Colin Sawrenko said, “There’s a million and one what-if scenarios. The key word is reasonableness – that’s what you have to remember. If it’s somebody stealing gas, what is reasonable? I don’t have that answer for you.”
Rural landowners need the answers. Some rural residents live a considerable distance away from the nearest law enforcement. Does that mean if intruders trespass onto their land, are they supposed to let thieves make off with their property and simply try to give police a description later? Would Edouard Maurice be facing charges if he had just shot out the tires of the suspect’s vehicles? Is firing a gun to try to scare intruders away a crime?
Perhaps the solution is something akin to the efforts of the Alberta Citizens on Patrol Association, whose volunteers work in pairs to report suspicious activity, but avoid direct confrontations.
Whatever the solution, rural landowners are understandably concerned. They need the help of their communities, law enforcement and the justice system to deal with the problem of increasing rural crime.
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