An attempted robbery at a rural Alberta property resulted in more legal woes for a rancher than for the thieves. Edouard Maurice’s decision to fire two warning shots in the wee morning hours of Feb. 24, 2018, thrust the 33-year-old family man into a nearly two-year-long legal entanglement that’s far from over. Friends are now donating to help offset legal fees.
The case has become a flashpoint in the ongoing debate in Canada around the issue of rural landowners' rights to defend their property.
Maurice’s dogs woke him around 5 a.m. on the morning that would throw his family into turmoil. He saw through the front door that his vehicle lights were on and people were rummaging through it.
Alone in the house with his infant daughter – his wife and other daughter were away at the time – Maurice retrieved a gun, opened the door and demanded the trespassers leave. When his demands were ignored, he said he fired two “warning shots” from his .22-calibre rifle. The trespassers left.
Maurice then called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but when they arrived two hours later they had their guns drawn and arrested Maurice because one of the intruders had been injured.
RCMP ballistics found that one of the shots Maurice fired had ricocheted, hitting 41-year-old Ryan Watson in the arm.
The incident led to charges against Maurice of aggravated assault, pointing a firearm and careless use of a firearm. It would take four months and six court appearances before the charges against him were dropped in June 2018.
But Maurice’s legal issues were reignited last month when Watson filed a civil suit against Maurice seeking $100,000 because he has suffered "emotional upset, severe fatigue and insomnia." He also claims special damages including loss of income “in an amount to be proven in court.” The incident required surgery for Watson and a metal plate was installed in his arm. Watson says his symptoms include pain, discomfort, dizziness, nausea, migraines, fatigue, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
RCMP originally charged Watson with trespassing, theft from a motor vehicle, mischief, possession of methamphetamine and probation violation. He received a 45-day jail sentence for mischief and breaching probation but was released because of time served in pretrial custody.
Watson’s accomplice, Stephanie Martens also faced three charges from the incident, but trespassing and theft charges were later dropped and she was sentenced to a $200 fine and a $60 victim surcharge for mischief.
After the civil lawsuit filed last month by Watson, this week Maurice has filed a counter lawsuit in which he claims Watson failed to heed warnings to leave the property as he was going through the rancher’s vehicles, forcing the defendant to fire two shots into the ground.
And the incident had a significant effect on Maurice and his family. “Mr. Maurice suffered from mental distress, anxiety, nightmares and a fear of repetition due to the criminal incident,” the counterclaim said. “Given that he lives in a rural community, he continues to worry for the safety of his wife and two infant daughters.”
Maurice’s legal woes have drawn the attention of neighbors and friends in their home community of Okotoks, which is just 10 miles south of Calgary. An online fundraiser seeks to help with Maurice’s legal bills. Nearly $57,000 has been raised so far from 655 contributors.