David Reid says he’s become more diligent about locking up on the land his family has farmed in Alberta for more than a century and is more watchful of strange vehicles along rural side roads.
“Neighbours have been broken into in the middle of the day and early in the morning when they’re still in their houses asleep and had items stolen right from the middle of their farmyards,” Reid said from Cremona, Alta., northwest of Calgary.
“Certainly you hear more about these criminals being armed. And if they’re not armed, then on drugs and certainly unpredictable.”
In Okotoks, about an 80-minute drive to the southeast, RCMP last month arrested a man on aggravated assault and firearms charges after he caught two people rummaging through his vehicles. One of the suspects, who was later found with a wounded arm, faces numerous charges that include trespassing, mischief and theft.
That case — along with the acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley in the shooting death of an Indigenous man — has renewed a simmering debate about what rights rural residents have to use force against a perceived intruder.
Reid doesn’t believe farmers defending their property should face tougher repercussions than those attempting to steal from them. But he said he’s not inclined to use firearms himself.
“Many landowners are getting the very distinct impression that the criminal element of the province is being sent a signal — and the signal is that landowners are free prey.”
Alberta RCMP Supt. John Bennett said property crime in rural areas has increased 23 per cent over the last five years. Offences include break and enters, vehicle theft, theft under $5,000 and possession of stolen goods.
At a recent town-hall meeting in Biggar, Sask., residents of the rural community west of Saskatoon complained of repeated thefts and break-ins, lenient punishments for culprits and long police response times. Many wanted to know what right they have to use force against an intruder.
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WATCH: People who attended the RCMP town hall meeting in Biggar say they are confused with messaging they received. Meaghan Craig explains.
Confusion over messaging at RCMP Bigger town hall meeting
Confusion over messaging at RCMP Bigger town hall meeting – Mar 8, 2018
Biggar is near Stanley’s farm where Colten Boushie, 22, was shot and killed. Boushie was in an SUV that had driven onto the property. Stanley testified he thought he was being robbed and the fatal shot went off accidentally.