OKOTOKS, Alta. - A man in rural Alberta who was charged by police after shots were fired during a confrontation on his property was met with applause from about 150 supporters after he made a court appearance Friday.
Edouard Maurice, 33, faces charges of aggravated assault, pointing a firearm and careless use of a firearm.
RCMP south of Calgary were called to the property on Feb. 25 about a homeowner allegedly confronting two people rummaging through his vehicles. Shots were fired and one of the suspects was later found with an arm injury and was taken to hospital.
Maurice showed up for his brief provincial court appearance in Okotoks, Alta., accompanied by his wife and carrying his daughter. The matter was set over until April 6.
One supporter waved a sign that read "Keep your city out of our country."
"We would like to thank the community for the overwhelming support that they've given in this difficult time," said defence lawyer Tonii Roulston.
"These are individuals who have had no interaction with the criminal justice system. This is an unfortunate and unfair position that they've been placed in."
Rural crime on the Prairies has been in the spotlight recently following the acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous man who was on his property.
Many of Maurice's supporters said it's important to support the family since it could happen to any one of them.
"This is something that a lot more of us are going to run into if there's not some change in our laws," said Bill Ferguson, who lives near Vulcan, Alta. "I feel it's ridiculous that we can't protect our own home and family."
Eric Johaniuk from High River, Alta., said he was outraged when he heard Maurice had been charged.
"The problem is the crooks are getting nothing. It's just a laugh. You have no right to defend yourself," he said.
Organizer George Clark told the crowd that rural property owners are being bullied and aren't allowed to stand up for themselves. He said it's not the RCMP's fault.
"They're acting on orders to lay charges because of all the other events and the political happenings. Our system is broken," said Clark to loud applause.
"We need better politicians, both provincially and federally ... particularly federally to start stepping up and changing the damn laws."
Friday's rally coincided with a $10-million Alberta government announcement to fight rural crime, which is at a five-year high. Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said the money will go to adding 39 RCMP officers in rural areas, 40 civilian support staff and up to 10 new Crown prosecutors.
The rural crime strategy also includes more GPS trackers on vehicles and farm equipment and focusing on individuals responsible for the majority of crime calls.
"Let's work smarter, not harder," said RCMP deputy Commissioner Todd Shean at the funding announcement.
Shean added police need the public's help in stemming rural crime. That includes locking buildings, not leaving keys in vehicles and reporting all suspicious activity.
He urged property owners to avoid using force against perceived intruders.
A fundraising page has been set up to help pay Maurice's legal fees and had raised $11,530 as of Friday morning. A bucket was also being passed around in front of the courthouse with plenty of $20 and $50 bills being dropped in.
"We understand that any one of us could have found ourselves in their shoes," said blogger Cory Morgan. "They're not alone in this nightmare they've found themselves wrapped up in."
— With files from Lauren Krugel in Calgary. Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter