Alberta toughens its trespass laws

The Alberta government has introduced new legislation that will slap heavier penalties on trespassers and make it more difficult for criminals to sue landowners.

Bill 27, if passed, would more than double fines and potentially give jail time to people who trespass onto private property. The government introduced it in the legislature Nov. 19.

Under the bill, fines for people who trespass without notice will climb to a maximum of $10,000 from $2,000. Subsequent offences will see fines increase to a max of $25,000 from $10,000.

People who trespass despite being notified that they can’t could see fines of $10,000 and $25,000, as well as up to six months in jail, for first and subsequent offences.

Notification can either be done verbally or through signage at gates or fence posts.

The legislation also creates a separate definition for trespassers deemed criminal.

Under the new definition, criminal trespassers are considered trespassers who landowners under reasonable grounds believe have accessed their land to commit a crime.

These criminal trespassers will have a harder time suing landowners for damages, injury or death, according to the legislation.

If they do sue, they will have to prove the landowner acted willfully and grossly disproportionate during a confrontation. As well, landowners must not commit a criminal act in the process.

There are no changes for trespassers who aren’t committing or are about to commit a crime.

The law is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018, and could end the lawsuit against Edouard Maurice, a high-profile case in which he fired a firearm on his Okotoks, Alta., farm that hit a man in the arm.

However, landowners should still be careful if they end up in confrontations with trespassers. Despite the changes, the government notes they can still be held criminally responsible for their actions and should call law enforcement to deal with trespassers.

The courts decide whether actions are reasonable in response to a confrontation.

Under the federal criminal code, people are allowed to use force that is reasonable but they can’t go beyond what’s necessary to eliminate the threat.

The United Conservative Party government is currently advocating for changes to the criminal code. It wants rural areas to be taken under special consideration so that specific facts can be considered by courts as aggravating factors.

As for other penalties outlined in Bill 27, the government plans on creating an offence for corporations to direct, counsel or aid a trespass.

Corporations can be slapped with a maximum fine of $200,000.

As well, compensation for landowners affected by trespassers could increase. They would be compensated for a maximum of $100,000. Previously, the maximum was $25,000.

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