Calgary

'There's going to be a confrontation': Rural residents on edge following crime spree

Business owners in several small towns west of Calgary say they're being pushed to the edge after being repeatedly targeted by thieves. They say they’re ready to protect their livelihoods themselves in the absence of a quick police response.

Businesses, residents say they’re ready to take law into their own hands

Cory Morgan, owner of the Water’s Edge Pub in Priddis, says residents are nervous after multiple break-ins in the small towns west of Calgary. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Business owners in a cluster of small towns west of Calgary say they're being pushed to the edge after being repeatedly targeted by thieves — and they're ready to protect their livelihoods themselves in the absence of a quick police response.

"We're going to have to very possibly take this into our own hands because I can't keep on getting robbed like this," said Cory Morgan, owner of the Water's Edge Pub in Priddis.

"Something's going to come to a head, and I just hope it doesn't end too terribly. But we're not going to sit back and let this keep happening," said Morgan, whose rural pub was broken into and vandalized Oct. 15 and again Oct. 22.

Thieves broke in through the front entrance of the Water’s Edge Pub in Priddis. The bar was broken into a second time a week later. (Cory Morgan)

Morgan says a gang of four captured on security camera footage took around $1,600 in cash and caused around $4,000 in damage, smashing TVs, cash registers, security equipment and glasses behind the bar, taking electronics and attempting to drag an ATM machine out of the bar during the two break-ins.

He says in the latest incident, a vehicle prowling close to the remote pub was disrupted early Wednesday by a local resident. Morgan says some residents are now patrolling the area themselves to try to prevent further burglaries. 

"There's going to be a confrontation. The police are the best professionals but I can't afford to wait for them. I want to run a bar, I don't want to shoot people. But if it comes to their health or my business, it's not going to end very well," said Morgan.

"If they're lucky, the police will catch them. And eventually they're going to be caught if they're being this brazen. If it's a citizen who catches them, we're not trained law-enforcement professionals," he said.

Morgan says Turner Valley RCMP, who cover Priddis, are doing the best they can but can only do so much with the resources they have and the large area they have to cover.

Security camera footage shows four intruders that owners say are responsible for several break-ins at local pubs. (Cory Morgan)

Morgan says he's exhausted and hasn't slept properly all week as he re-installs security systems and repairs thousands of dollars of damage while also checking on his pub through the night. 

"Stress-wise, it's terrible," he said. "And financially we're taking a beating."

A small collection of messages and drawings now cover the boarded-up entrance to the pub. One reads: "Your community loves and appreciates you!"

"That was one beautiful thing to come out of this," said Morgan.

There's also been financial help.

A FundRazr page has been set up to help the Morgans with donations. It also includes messages of support.

Messages of support are pinned to the front door at the Water’s Edge Pub after thousands of dollars of damage. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

One was left by friend Edward Maurice, the southern Alberta farmer who was charged with shooting a trespasser in 2018. It reads: "Cory has supported me through everything.… I'm paying it back as I can by supporting him. We need to stand together and help each other out."

Other bars including the Powderhorn Saloon and Rockies Tavern and Grill in Bragg Creek say they've also been targeted multiple times in the past 10 days, along with properties in nearby Millarville. Intruders have caused damage and stolen cash and liquor along with security cameras and electronics.

"Within the last three weeks, we've had three break-ins," said Emma Pirija, owner of the Rockies Tavern and Grill in Bragg Creek.

"They came in through the back, smashed the windows, smashed the cameras, broke into the office and cut out the surveillance hardware, taking cash and product," she said. 

Emma Pirija, owner of the Rockies Tavern and Grill in Bragg Creek, says it's had three break-ins. She says the crime spree is making life difficult for business owners. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"This is our livelihood and you absolutely feel violated. You don't know when it's going to happen next," she said. 

Pirija says the community is concerned about safety.

Like the other victims, she says the local RCMP are doing the best they can but response times can be slow. 

"They're hurting small businesses and they're going to put people out of work. We'd love to see the police step up patrols but they're not, and pretty soon someone's going to get hurt," said Bragg Creek resident Scott Winograd.

Bragg Creek resident Scott Winograd says he’d like to see more police patrols in the area. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"There's a crime spree going on. Businesses have to cover the costs of their businesses being destroyed by a bunch of thugs," said Winograd. 

"They absolutely know they can get away with this and they're taking advantage of the fact that the nearest police are 40 minutes away. Residents are getting scared because pretty soon they're going to switch from businesses to residences, and again, someone's going to get hurt," he said.

Others looking at the bigger picture say Alberta's justice system is to blame. 

"At the end of the day, something is going snap," said a Water's Edge customer called Hutch.

A Water’s Edge Pub customer called Hutch says police based in Turner Valley can’t respond quickly enough to incidents in Priddis. He says the justice system needs fixing before rural crime can be dealt with properly. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"Local people are going to start taking the law into their own hands. The biggest problem is the courts that let people down. The police do their job, but they go to court and the judicial system lets us down," he said. 

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer says the province intends to work fast to solve the problem, even skipping consultation in order to make quick changes.

Schweitzer said earlier this month at an event in Leduc that he also wants to find a way to clarify rules around self-defence and prevent lawsuits against landowners protecting their property. 

Edward Maurice is facing a civil lawsuit from one of the trespassers who says he was injured by a warning shot. 

Schweitzer has spent the past month touring the province holding town halls on rural crime.

Turner Valley RCMP and Alberta RCMP's media relations spokesperson didn't respond to requests for an interview.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey