UCP says Criminal Code should be amended to support use of force in rural self-defence

The United Conservative Party is calling on the federal government to amend sections of the Criminal Code and sentencing factors to help rural citizens protect themselves from crime.

Party releases list of recommendations to tackle rural crime in Alberta

The UCP has released recommendations intended to reduce rural crime in Alberta. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The United Conservative Party is calling on the federal government to amend sections of the Criminal Code and sentencing factors to address what it describes as vulnerabilities in how rural citizens can protect themselves from crime.

The request is one of a wide-ranging list of recommendations released by Alberta's Opposition party Wednesday as part of a report on what it calls a "dramatic increase" of rural crime in the province.

One of the recommendations is for the province to lobby the federal government to reform the Criminal Code to ensure the use of force as self-defence precludes the prosecution of a victim of a crime.

The UCP wants to ensure the following points are considered in sentencing if someone uses force in self-defence:

  • If police were delayed or did not respond at all.
  • If the offender failed to leave the premises once confronted.
  • The number of people committing a crime, and if they appeared to be intoxicated.
  • Whether or not the accused was armed or exhibited threatening behaviour.

"Property owners who are victims of repeated break-ins and thefts, without suitable police response, are warned by police, or even charged, when they use their lawfully owned firearms to defend themselves, their families, and their property from brazen criminals," reads the report.

In June, charges were dropped against rural Okotoks homeowner Eddie Maurice, who was accused of shooting a trespasser on his property.

The case, along with that of Gerald Stanley in Saskatchewan — a farmer who was found not guilty of shooting Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man who had driven onto his property — inflamed debate on the rights of homeowners to defend their property. 

"You have to ask yourself why Mr. Maurice was in the situation that he was in, that caused him to take up force against an offender that was on his property," said  Mike Ellis, solicitor general critic with the UCP.

"In the case of Mr. Maurice and many of our friends in rural Alberta … the police in many of these cases are not just arriving late, they're not arriving at all."

UCP rejected funding for crime strategy: Notley

The UCP accused the NDP of doing little to address rural crime, saying a $10-million rural crime action plan announced earlier this year lacked details to address issues identified by rural Albertans. 

"The UCP likes to say that every answer is found in critiquing the federal government. What we have done is, with our attorney general, is put together a rural crime strategy," said Premier Rachel Notley on Wednesday.

"We sat down, we worked with community leaders, we worked with the RCMP and we brought that strategy into the legislature last spring and then the UCP proceeded to vote it down and to reject funding to support that strategy."

At the time the action plan was announced, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said some communities in Alberta have been experiencing the highest property crime rates they've seen in five years. 

Other concrete actions the UCP called for Wednesday include:

  • Creating a provincially-regulated system to enable different jurisdictions to work together to respond to calls.
  • Collect more data on repeat offenders, including electronic monitoring of them once they are released, and establish a high-risk offender unit.
  • Introduce an act that would require yearly reports to the legislature on provincial crime statistics. 
  • Look into creating an office that would advocate for victims' rights.
  • Hire additional prosecutors and create temporary courts to eliminate backlogs in the justice system.

Ellis said that as a former police officer he understands that many factors go into increases in crime, but the biggest needs right now in Alberta are for more resources to strengthen crime prevention and the police's ability to respond. 

"We will address the addictions portions of this, the addictions and mental health portions. However, there are people who are bad and they prey upon the most vulnerable. And right now in rural Alberta there are vulnerable people out there," he said. 

Dramatic spikes in rural crime severity

Although Alberta's crime severity index declined as a whole by one per cent from 2015 to 2016 — the most recent year for which Statistics Canada data is available — some rural communities have seen dramatic spikes in the severity of crime.

In Nanton, the severity of reported crimes jumped by 50 per cent, with an increase in the number of reported crimes as well, up to 457 from 337. 

Another community that saw a large increase was High River, which had a slight increase in the number of crimes reported — from 254 to 314 — but a 42 per cent increase in their severity. 

Brooks, Taber and Airdrie also had roughly 20 per cent increases in the severity of reported crimes.

With files from Audrey Neveu, Dave Bell