'What are we supposed to do?' Confusion over defence rights in rural Sask.

The question of how far people can go to defend themselves and their property is dominating public discussion in rural Saskatchewan in light of Gerald Stanley's acquittal in the shooting death of Colten Boushie.

Gerald Stanley's acquittal in death of Colten Boushie looms over RCMP consultations on rural crime

The RCMP held a community town hall in Perdue, Sask., on Thursday to consult with the public on policing priorities. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

In the quaint village of Perdue in central Saskatchewan, frustration over break-ins, thefts and property owners having to chase trespassers off their land is growing.

"We're in the middle of nowhere and we're stuck," grain farmer Greg Pavloff said. 

"Cops may be two or three hours away. What are we supposed to do?"

The question of how far people can go to defend themselves and their property is dominating public discussion, while Indigenous leaders worry about racism and call for more police resources.

The RCMP held a town hall to hear concerns on Thursday evening in the community — about 60 kilometres west of Saskatoon — which is close to where Colten Boushie was shot and killed in August 2016 on Gerald Stanley's farm. 

Stanley, who had been charged with second-degree murder, was found not guilty by a jury last month in the death of the 22-year-old Cree man.

'I'd be in the same case as Gerald Stanley'

The polarizing acquittal had nothing to do with Thursday's meeting, according to RCMP Sgt. Colin Sawrenko.

Instead, it was one of dozens of consultations that the Mounties are holding in Saskatchewan to address rural crime, including one that was held earlier in Biggar.

Stanley's trial was raised by audience members, and prompted a lengthy exchange with police. 
RCMP Sgt. Colin Sawrenko is asking people to report crime. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Pavloff said he vows to do whatever it takes to defend himself, but worries that could land him in legal trouble. 

"If they were coming in here to hurt my family or do anything, I'd be in the same case as Gerald Stanley," Pavloff said.

"Sorry to say, but that's where I stand."

'Reasonable' hard to define: RCMP

Self-defence and defence of property can be justified based on the particular circumstances of a situation, according to Sawrenko.

The Criminal Code states it comes down to what's reasonable — a word that isn't easy to define. 

"I can't provide an answer to what's reasonable," Sawrenko said.

"What's reasonable to me isn't reasonable to someone else."

Debate about how far rural landowners can go in defending their property has also flared up recently in Alberta, where a property owner is facing charges after an alleged thief was shot last month near Okotoks, just south of Calgary.

Sawrenko urged the crowd not to take matters into their own hands, and said clarity in the law will have to come from elected officials.

RCMP statistics suggest property crimes, break-ins and thefts are decreasing in Saskatchewan jurisdictions, but people who live in rural communities say that's because they're not calling police due to slow response times. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

But that message wasn't comforting to Pavloff, who said he had $25,000 worth of belongings stolen from his house last year in broad daylight while he was out at a ball game. 

"You are violated," said Pavloff. "It wasn't even fun to even walk in the house anymore."

'911 effect'

Although he didn't argue self-defence, Stanley testified that he drew his gun when Boushie and his friends drove onto his rural property to fire warning shots because he thought they were stealing.

The incident was a wake-up call for many in the area. 

"It's sort of that 911 effect," Perdue deputy mayor Terry Fyson said. "Everyone's got a little more fear."

Many people who gathered for an RCMP consultation on rural crime in Perdue, Sask., on Thursday called for more police resources. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Even though people in the community of 334 say fear over rural crime is rising, statistics suggest the Mounties are making improvements.

Property crime in Saskatchewan RCMP districts decreased in 2017 by five per cent compared to 2016, according to the force.

Break-ins are also down by 13 per cent, and thefts declined by two per cent over the same period of time, RCMP say.

'Please report' crime, RCMP say

Grain farmer Daryl Moody has had his truck stolen and yard ransacked.

He said people like him aren't calling for help due to slow response times.

"It's a real challenge for policing," Moody said. "I don't think they have the resources to effectively police the country."

Kamao Cappo, a rancher from Muscowpetung First Nation, told the RCMP community gathering on Thursday that police response times are far worse on reserve than in the rest of rural Saskatchewan. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The RCMP Biggar detachment that serves Perdue is losing one of its five officers this year, according to Sawrenko. 

He said the force can't get more staff if crime continues to be underreported. 

"I can't allocate resources to a situation I don't know exists," Sawrenko said.

"Please report. If we don't report crime, we don't know it's happening."

Indigenous leaders look for 'common ground'

If emergency response times are a concern in rural Saskatchewan, they're even worse on reserves, according to Muscowpetung First Nation rancher Kamao Cappo.

"These farmers in these rural areas are a lot more protected," Cappo said.

"And we ain't grabbing guns and shooting people."

Cappo said he has had break-ins on his property, but has never turned to violence.

"The issue is racism, and the issue is people are uneducated," he said. 

"You can't go shooting people over a stolen item."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters during a visit to Regina on Friday that improvements need to be made to the justice system to make Canadians feel safer. (CBC)

Indigenous leaders are trying to work with rural communities to lobby for improved policing. 

"We have to find common ground," Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice-Chief Kim Jonathan said.

"There ought to be proper resources put toward safety in this land."

'Awful lot of work to do': PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged during a visit to Regina on Friday that solving the issue of rural crime won't be easy. 

"There is an awful lot of work to do," he said.

"We know there are things we need to address in the justice system to make Canadians feel safe." 

Many people in Perdue said nothing will change until they see more police on their rural roads.

"I appreciate everybody's frustration," Sawrenko said. 

"The police are frustrated as well."


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: