OKOTOKS, Alta. — A courtroom erupted in cheers and applause Friday as all charges were dropped against a man accused of firing shots at suspected thieves on his rural property in southern Alberta.
The Crown withdrew charges that included aggravated assault and firearms offences against Edouard Maurice at a court appearance in Okotoks south of Calgary.
"The Crown's obligation is always to review on an ongoing basis the strength of the case. In this case, information came to light and as a result there's not a reasonable chance of conviction at this time," said Crown prosecutor Jim Sawa.
"We've received information from a firearms expert and that information was compelling to say the least," said Sawa, who wouldn't reveal what the evidence was.
"It had a direct impact on the decision today to withdraw the charges."
The cheers from dozens of Maurice supporters prompted a comment from provincial court Judge George Gaschler.
"The applause, I'm sure, is for the fair administration of justice Mr. Sawa," Gaschler said.
Maurice, 33, was charged after he confronted two people rummaging through his vehicles in February. Shots was fired and one of the prowlers was slightly wounded.
Maurice was cheered by 75 supporters outside the courthouse where he spoke for the first time since his arrest.
"It's a relief it's over. It's been quite a tough four months to go through this. It's been a lot of stress, anxiety. With the support that's come out, it's really helped," he said standing with his wife Jessie and his lawyer.
"Without us having to go through this, the rural crime problem wouldn't be at the forefront. It's got a lot of attention and now the government and everyone else is stepping up and looking at ways to help us out."
In March, the province announced $10 million in funding to hire more RCMP officers and support specialized crime reduction units in rural communities.
Defence lawyer Tonii Roulston said being able to defend property is important and often police are delayed in responding to rural calls.
She noted that her client was alone with one of his children and had warned the two prowlers to leave before firing.
"We're certainly not advocating don't call the police. However, at the same time, individual citizens in rural communities have to be able to defend their property and defend their family.
"They can't wait 20 minutes. In 20 minutes, anything can happen."
The alleged thieves are facing theft, trespassing and mischief charges.
The case became one of property rights and the concerns of rural landowners who are victims of crime.
"We .. hope this becomes an issue in the election that comes up next year. Obviously it's an issue much bigger than us," Jessie Maurice said.
Maurice said he can now get on with his life.
"I'll probably take a holiday and spend time with the family," he said.
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press