Supporters of rural homeowner accused of shooting trespasser want laws changed

Approximately 150 supporters of a southern Alberta homeowner accused of shooting a trespasser rallied outside the Okotoks courthouse Friday as Eddie Maurice made his first appearance on firearms and assault charges.

Edouard Maurice facing charges of aggravated assault, pointing a firearm and careless use of a firearm

Eddie Maurice leaves the Okotoks courthouse with his family. (CBC)

Approximately 150 supporters of a southern Alberta homeowner accused of shooting a trespasser rallied outside the Okotoks courthouse on Friday, as Eddie Maurice made his first appearance on firearms and assault charges.

Maurice, 33, was charged after shots were fired on his property in the Okotoks area, wounding a suspected thief.

The court appearance on Friday morning concluded with the matter being put over until April 6.

The situation has fuelled debate about how far rural landowners can go in defending their property.

"At this point, the landowners are left feeling they have no other choice but to arm themselves," said George Clark, organizer of the rally in support of Eddie Maurice in Okotoks.

A rally, organized by George Clark, took place outside the building Friday. (CBC)

"We're actually looking for some sort of changes within the system that allow rural homeowners and landowners to become their own trained first response."

The issue of landowners demanding more rights to defend their property and themselves soared back into the public eye in 2016 after Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley shot and killed Colten Boushie, a passenger in a car that entered his property. The debate has intensified when Stanley was acquitted last month after arguing at trial that his gun fired accidentally.

Police were called to the property near Okotoks in the early morning hours on Feb. 24 when a number of shots were fired after the homeowner saw someone rummaging through his vehicles.

About 150 people came out in support of an acreage owner accused of shooting a gun while confronting a trespasser. (CBC)

Two people fled the scene but one man suffering an arm injury was located soon after.

Ryan Watson is charged with trespassing, mischief to property, theft under $5,000, possession of methamphetamine and failure to comply with probation. 

As Maurice and his family arrived at the courthouse on Friday, defence lawyer Tonii Roulston thanked the crowd for supporting her client. 

"These are individuals who have had no interaction with the criminal justice system," she said. "This is an unfortunate and unfair position that they've been placed in."

Rural property crime jumped 41%

Landowners are expressing support for Maurice, and have raised nearly $11,000 online for the family's legal defence. 

Speaking before the rally, Clark said rural property owners are easy targets and echoed many landowners' concerns: "There's simply far too much of it."

Frustrated with slow police response times and increasing crime, many want broader rights to defend their property. 0:52

Online, locals are complaining about slow police response times and an increase in rural crime.

The ranchers aren't wrong; between 2013 and 2017 rural property crimes are up 41 per cent, according to RCMP, though spokesperson Cpl. Curtis Peters says some of that increase can be attributed to an increase in reporting. 

Cory Morgan — a blogger and once-candidate for the former Wildrose party in Calgary — says people defending their family and property should not face criminal repercussions.

"As has become an unfortunate trend in Canada, the victim is treated as the criminal should they choose to defend their family and property from intruders."

Duncan Milne, who lives in Didsbury, attended the rally and expressed similar frustration.

"We can't do bugger all to protect ourselves," he said. 

Milne says those who are committing crimes aren't being punished sufficiently.

"Put him in jail and leave them there. I don't care, just throw away the damn keys. I'm tired of it," he said.

"Until somebody gets killed, nobody's going to look at it seriously, and that's what we're looking at right here. Somebody took a shot at somebody."

Maurice is currently out on bail. 

With files from Colleen Underwood and Mike Symington