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UCP bill to protect Alberta property owners from liability for injured trespassers receives 1st reading

The view of the Alberta Legislature from the premier's apartment is seen in Edmonton on Friday, March 28, 2014. .
The view of the Alberta Legislature from the premier's apartment is seen in Edmonton on Friday, March 28, 2014. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta’s UCP government is moving forward with legislation it says is meant to keep property owners from getting sued if they injure criminal trespassers on their property.

The Kenney government issued a news release Tuesday afternoon to say Bill 27 — the Trespass Statutes (Protecting Law-Abiding Property Owners) Amendment Act — has received first reading in the legislature.

The bill makes changes to the Occupiers’ Liability Act by offering increased protection to property owners from “civil liability for injuries to trespassers where the owner has reasonable grounds to believe the trespasser is committing, or about to commit, a criminal offence.”

The government said the amendments would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018.

“The proposed changes in Bill 27 came directly from listening to rural residents whose lives have been affected by crime,” Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said in a news release.

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“As our next step in our plan to combat rural crime, this legislation will not only protect property owners and help law-abiding Albertans feel safe in their communities, but also will ensure trespassers face the proper consequences for their actions.”

The bill reads that “in respect of a claim by a criminal trespasser against an occupier for damages for death of or injury to the criminal trespasser on the occupier’s premises, the operation of the limitation periods provided by this Act is suspended during the period of time commencing when the conduct giving rise to the claim occurred and concluding when the occupier is convicted of an offence in relation to the conduct under the Criminal Code (of Canada) that is prosecuted by indictment.”

READ MORE: Alberta moves to prevent lawsuits against homeowners protecting property

‘When is enough enough?’ Rural Alberta farmer sued by intruder who tried to break into his home
‘When is enough enough?’ Rural Alberta farmer sued by intruder who tried to break into his home

The government said the bill does not diminish property owners’ legal duty to trespassers who aren’t committing crimes or to children who are trespassing.

If passed into law without any amendments, Bill 27 would also result in “five-fold increases to maximum fines for trespassing, with fines of up to $10,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for subsequent offences, as well as possible prison time of up to six months,” according to the government.

“Corporations that help or direct trespassers would face fines up to $200,000 — a first for Canada,” the government said.

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“In addition, the maximum amount a court may order for loss or damage to property would be raised from $25,000 to $100,000.”

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In 2018, Edouard Maurice, a property owner near Okotoks, Alta., shot Ryan Watson, a trespasser who has since pleaded guilty to mischief and breaching probation in connection with the case.

While the government’s news release on Tuesday did not specifically reference the case, Premier Jason Kenney has expressed his sympathy for Maurice ever since Watson filed a lawsuit against him, seeking damages for pain, suffering and loss of income.

Maurice later filed a counterclaim alleging mental anguish.

READ MORE: Jason Kenney makes donation to Okotoks landowner being sued by intruder

Just last month, the premier contributed $100 to an online fundraising campaign aimed at supporting Maurice’s legal defence.

If passed, the government says Bill 27 would also see Alberta become “the first province to have offences and penalties for creating a biosecurity hazard to animals.”

The legislation adds specific references to “land used for crops, animal-rearing and beekeeping” in the Petty Trespass Act with the intention of addressing the occupation of farms and ranches by protesters, acts which the government says “risk introducing disease and threaten the welfare of animals.”

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Last month, four people were charged in connection with break and enter after staging a protest at a southern Alberta turkey farm to voice their concerns for the animals’ rights and welfare.

Several government cabinet ministers condemned the actions taken by the activists.

READ MORE: 3 adults, 1 youth charged after southern Alberta turkey farm protest

Animal activists occupy Hutterite turkey farm near Fort MacLeod
Animal activists occupy Hutterite turkey farm near Fort MacLeod

The government said that while it hopes to strengthen the rights of property owners with Bill 27, Alberta property owners need to remember they “can still be held criminally responsible for their actions and should call law enforcement to deal with trespassers.”