Frustrations over rural crime in the spotlight

Legal experts describe the laws following controversial murder case in Sask. but answers don’t sit well with farmers

LLOYDMINSTER — As their frustrations simmer, many farmers and ranchers continue to feel largely defenceless when confronted by crime on their properties.

The issue reached a boiling point in Lloydminster earlier this month during the Agri-Visions conference. Fresh in people’s minds was the trial involving Gerald Stanley, a farmer near Biggar, Sask., over the death of Colten Boushie, a young indigenous man.

Stanley was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter charges earlier this month (he still faces weapons related charges), but debate has since swirled over whether the verdict was fair. As well, questions have arisen over what producers can legally do when faced with people committing crimes on their land.

At the conference, those questions were answered by defence lawyer Don Smith and former Saskatchewan crown prosecutor Glen Jacques.

They said farmers shouldn’t throw the last punch if they are in a fight, point their gun at a thief or chase them down the highway if they drive away with valuable items. If they do, they could face charges of assault, uttering threats or dangerous driving.

If anything, even if it’s hard to do, the legal experts said it would be best if producers called the police and not confront the thieves. Self defence is only justifiable if producers are attacked and if they didn’t provoke the attack. If attacked, farmers can retaliate with force as long as it isn’t more force than necessary, and they can’t cause severe harm or death to the other person.

Those answers didn’t sit well with many people at the event.

“The frustration is just that you don’t feel safe in your home, you don’t feel safe in your yard, and you don’t feel safe with property you’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on,” said Laython Ford, who farms near Irma, Alta.

Ford said he’s had fuel stolen from his yard, and his neighbours have had their homes broken into.

“It feels like the people who come on to your property and steal things have more rights than you,” he said.

“They say that you can’t throw the last punch and that you could get charged with assault if you do that. But if you’re in the middle of a heated fight when someone tries to steal your truck that you paid $80,000 for, it’s going to take a lot to control the emotion of the human being to stop that.”

Ford isn’t the only one frustrated.

During the conference, dozens of producers raised their hands when asked if they’ve been confronted and are frustrated by crime on their properties.

While Jacques said he understands their frustration, he told producers that this is the way Canadian law works and that police officers are simply enforcing it.

“Everyone in Canada is subject to the laws, whether you’re a property owner or otherwise,” he said. “You need to act in accordance with those laws.”

Smith added, “The only thing that concerns me is that frustration leads to anger and that can lead to an over-reaction to a situation where too much force is being used. Even if you have no criminal records and have kids to support, all of that is irrelevant when it comes to being guilty or not guilty.”

Smith said more mental health supports are needed for convicted criminals, so that they can heal and not re-offend when they get out of jail.

“It’s not what everyone wants to hear, but they’re going to get out of jail eventually so we have to try and do something to get at the root of the problem,” he said.

Ford said more needs to be done, whether it’s longer sentences or more RCMP on the ground.

“We’re told we can only do so much,” he said. “It’s just such a super frustrating situation. It doesn’t feel like anyone is doing anything.”

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