Rural Alberta landowner accused of shooting trespasser still nervous about intruders
Eddie and Jessica Maurice are relieved charges were dropped but insist isolated families need protection
Sounds at night and cars on his road cause Eddie Maurice to worry about potential thieves.
The rural Alberta homeowner says he constantly wonders if someone is watching his house, five months after spotting suspected thieves on his property, firing a .22 rifle and being charged when one man was wounded.
"I don't believe you guys fully understand the isolation. It's pitch black. You don't have anyone around," Maurice, 33, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday in his first sit-down interview since the charges against him were dropped last Friday.
The case further fuelled debate in the wake of the death of an Indigenous Saskatchewan man, who was fatally shot on a rural property.
Maurice being charged became a rallying point for Alberta rural landowners, who felt left to defend themselves amid rising property crime.
"We live out there 'cause we love to be out there.... We like it, but when you're taken advantage of, basically, that feeling is gone," he said.
"Now you're going back to that, every noise in the dark you're not sure about. Are people there? Are they looking? Are they coming out?"
On June 22, Crown prosecutor Jim Sawa withdrew charges of aggravated assault, pointing a firearm and careless use of a firearm. New information had come to light, which Sawa said forced the Crown to concede there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction.
Maurice was charged after an alleged thief was wounded on his property near Okotoks when shots were fired on Feb. 24.
The new evidence was a ballistics report that showed the bullet that hit the man may have ricocheted off the ground. Or, the report found, it may have not.
We got to be able to make that split-second decision that we can protect because help may not always be there.- Eddie Maurice
Either way, the report determined there was no conclusive evidence a crime had been committed, and the couple said that lined up with Eddie Maurice's statement.
He has insisted he intended to fire a warning shot at the ground, away from the alleged thief.
The wounded man faced charges of trespass, mischief and theft.
'As simple as it could be'
Maurice and wife, Jessica Maurice, told the CBC they are relieved the court case is over but upset they had to go through it at all.
"It was just as simple as it could be, you know," Eddie Maurice said.
In the middle of the night, he said, the alleged thieves came onto his property and started going through his vehicles. He believed they were looking to steal and said he yelled at them to leave.
"It looked like they were proceeding closer towards me and I fired [a] warning shot away from them, and then they took off," he said.
Maurice said he's worried about how the charges will remain on his record — to be flagged any time he travels or is pulled over by police.
"We're disappointed, a little upset that it happened in the first place," Jessica Maurice said, adding she felt charges were laid before investigators had collected enough information.
"We're upset we even had to go through this. They should have figured it out on the front-end before it got to this point and we didn't have to go through four months of court, thousands of dollars in legal bills, all the headaches and the stress."
Jump in property crime
Today, the couple say they're hyper-vigilant and feel recent promises to bolster rural crime fighting measures do little to stem their fears.
In March, the Alberta government announced it would spend $10 million to hire more RCMP officers, Crown prosecutors and civilian staff to deal with rural crime, driven by what the department called a "spike in criminal activity" and property crime in rural communities.
Alberta RCMP have said rural property crime in the province has jumped 23 per cent in five years.
'Not going to do anything'
Jessica Maurice said they've heard from many people who felt they could have been in her husband's shoes, and have dealt with crimes-in-progress on their own land.
"The real heart of the matter is people who live in the middle of nowhere, that funding's not going to do anything for them," she said. "Someone who lives an hour away from that police station is not getting help when people come on their property."
She called the funding "a step in the right direction" but not enough to make her feel more safe.
In Canada, RCMP have made it clear that shooting at people, even while a crime is believed to be in progress, is prohibited and dangerous.
In Saskatchewan, a rural property owner was charged with second-degree murder in the death of a Cree man, Colten Boushie, 22. A jury trial found Gerald Stanley not guilty.
Boushie was in an SUV that had pulled into the driveway of Stanley's farm, along with other young people from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation. An altercation occurred between the strangers in the SUV and Stanley, his son and his wife. Boushie was fatally shot in the head. His death and the jury's verdict sparked mass outrage and a discussion about racism and rural property crime.
'Line of defence'
Maurice said he doesn't encourage anyone to shoot even a warning shot, as he said he did.
But he argued that in his case, he was his family's "line of defence."
"I just did really what any other person, I feel, would have done in that situation. I was alone. My infant daughter was in the house," he said.
"If you're ever in a situation where you do fear for your life, we got to be able to make that split-second decision that we can protect, because help may not always be there."
- Listen to the full interview with Eddie and Jessica Maurice:
Jessica Maurice said she stands by her husband, trusts his instincts and hopes that as a country, people consider how to handle rural crime and isolation.
She said he is dealing with lasting fear following the incident.
"It's a traumatic event and you feel violated and scared for your safety," she said.
Eddie Maurice said it's stuck with him every time he's home.
"You're always taking a second look."
- MORE CALGARY NEWS | 'I'm pumped,' says paralyzed Humboldt Bronco as he prepares to leave specialized rehab program in U.S.
- MORE CALGARY NEWS | Alberta judge dismisses bid to place gay-straight alliance law on hold
- MORE CALGARY NEWS | Drug thefts on the rise as pharmacies targeted throughout Alberta
- Read more articles by CBC Calgary, like us on Facebook for updates and subscribe to our CBC Calgary newsletter for the day's news at a glance.
With files from Kathryn Marlow and the Calgary Eyeopener.