Charges dropped against rural Alberta homeowner accused of shooting trespasser

All charges have been dropped against a rural Alberta homeowner accused of shooting a trespasser on his property near Okotoks.

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

Charges were dropped against the rural Alberta homeowner accused of shooting trespasser. 0:30

All charges have been dropped against a rural Alberta homeowner accused of shooting a trespasser on his property near Okotoks.

Eddie Maurice, 33, was charged after a suspected thief was wounded when shots were fired on Maurice's property on Feb. 24.

On Friday morning at the Okotoks courthouse, Crown prosecutor Jim Sawa withdrew charges of aggravated assault, pointing a firearm and careless use of a firearm.

He said the Crown has conceded there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction because of new information that had just come to light.  

The courtroom erupted in applause at that news.

Maurice had said all along that when he saw thieves on his property, he fired a warning shot, and that it was a ricochet bullet that struck the intruder. 

Ballistics report compelling

On Friday, Sawa said the Crown had recently received a firearms report supporting that story. 

"That information was compelling, to say the least, and it had a direct impact on the decision today to withdraw the charges," he said.

Sawa said he isn't able to elaborate on the report because of the two prosecutions of the alleged trespassers. 

Maurice spoke to reporters outside a short time after the charges against him were dropped.

"I never really have had to encounter or endure anything like this. It's just overwhelming the people who have taken the time just to come out and support this," he said. "It's really kept our heads above water."

Supporters have rallied at each of Maurice's previous court appearances, framing the case around the issue of rural landowners' rights to defend their property.

The situation fuelled debate about how far rural landowners can go when faced with those situations. 

The shooting on Maurice's property occurred weeks after a Saskatchewan farmer was found not guilty after killing a young Indigenous man who had driven onto his property with a group of friends.

Gerald Stanley had been charged with second-degree murder after shooting Colten Boushie in the head in August 2016. That case had inflamed tensions Canada-wide between Indigenous populations and rural landowners. 

Defence lawyer Tonii Roulston had previously said she wanted to see the charges against Maurice withdrawn or stayed.

The Crown had indicated at Maurice's last court appearance in May that it could take between eight and 12 months to receive ballistics analysis from the RCMP lab.

Roulston said at that time that there could be no election and plea or setting of a trial date until that report was available.

On Friday Roulston said the Crown did the right thing at the end of the day.

"But initially, in my view, there needed to be some greater assessment as to whether or not this individual ought to be charged," she said.

Rural crime highlighted by case

A property owner and the president of the High Country Rural Crime Watch Association said the Maurice family is not alone.

"This family is the face of what we are all experiencing in rural Alberta," Suzanne Oel told CBC Calgary News at Six on Friday evening.

"The onslaught of continued crime and wanting to be able to figure out what to do about it, and not knowing how we would react in a situation. This particular case has brought light to the things we are experiencing."

Suspected thief charged 

Police were called to Maurice's property at about 5 a.m. MT on Feb. 24 for reports of shots being fired. Maurice told officers he saw someone rummaging through his vehicles

Two people fled the scene but one suspect was located soon after, suffering from an injury.

Ryan Watson, who had been shot in the arm, was charged with trespassing, mischief and theft. A second person on the property during the incident was charged as well.

Rural property crime is a growing issue across the Prairies.  

The province recently announced increased funding of $10 million to address rural crime. 

Police are urging people not to engage with trespassers, rather to immediately report incidents but rural residents feel police response times are often too slow.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.

With files from The Canadian Press and CBC Calgary News at Six

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