Freeman arrest eases 'scary' times for northern Alberta trappers
Squatters take over traplines, cabins in Grande Prairie area
A trapper is breathing easier this morning after the arrest of a man accused of squatting in his cabin in northwest Alberta.
"The bush is safe again," says Billy Loewen. "I'd like to thank the RCMP and Fish and Wildlife and (Alberta) Forestry and most of all (Grande Prairie-Smoky MLA) Everett McDonald ... in resolving this situation before it escalated to something worse."
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Over the summer trappers in the wilderness near Grande Prairie, 460 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, reported people calling themselves Freemen-on-the-Land were occupying properties, taking over traplines.
Two weeks ago Loewen, a Grande Prairie-area farmer and trapper, received a call from a man saying he was a Freeman.
"He said they had purchased our line and they're not going to argue with us and they want to know what we done with the cabin.
"I told them they never purchased it and didn't have a right to be in our cabin."
Loewen's father built the 16 x 18 foot log cabin with veranda and tin roof 25 years ago on the trapline his father has worked since the 1960's.
Loewen has been going to the property since he was young and often takes his four children.
"That's our getaway and everybody enjoys it."
At least until two weeks ago.
"They were worried — they didn't want to go down," Loewen said. "They didn't want me to go down."
Though trapping season had just begun, Loewen too was also reluctant to go.
"When you're a trapper, you're out in the bush a lot of times by yourself."
Loewen was relieved this week when police arrested a 40-year-old man from Manitoba, charging him with uttering threats, using a firearm in the commission of an offence and possession of a firearm while prohibited.
The man was denied bail Wednesday and is being held in custody until he appears in court next Thursday.
Now Loewen's anxious to check out the cabin.
"We've been informed that it's pretty much trashed, ransacked and trashed," he said.
Loewen said he'll visit the cabin today and make plans to rebuild.
"It's a total lack of respect," he said. "It's not different than somebody coming into your house or into your yard and destroying something that's been passed down from your dad to you and you're trying to pass it along to your kids.
He hopes the dangerous people have been forced out of the area, though he was told that there were more than a dozen individuals involved with at least one other trapper's line seized back in May.
The incident has left him wary of strangers, he said.
"Usually you meet people, you invite them in for coffee. but now a guy is going to second guess it. Somebody comes to your cabin and you're going to wonder who they are."
"It is scary when you think about it," Loewen said.
With files from CBC's James Hees