EDMONTON -- The Alberta government has unveiled the first step it will take to tackle rural crime in the province.

Bill 27, the Trespass Statutes Amendment Act, was introduced in the legislature and aims to "strengthen protections for law-abiding Albertans and their property."

If passed, it will amend several trespassing-related acts to toughen fines, increase jail time and create new laws surrounding corporations that participate in trespassing.

The bill would protect animal farmers and ranchers from harassment and protest groups, such those who attended a rally at a turkey farm near Fort Macleod in September. Activists occupied a barn at a turkey farm near Fort Macleod, resulting in arrests.

Among the changes:

  • The maximum fine for trespassing without notice would rise from $2,000 to $10,000 for first offences, and $5,0000 to $25,000 for subsequence offences.
  • The maximum fine for trespassing with notice would rise to $10,000 and $25,000 for first and subsequent offences, respectively, or a prison sentence of six months, or both.
  • A new offence will be created making it illegal for a corporation to "direct, counsel or aid a trespass," and carrying a maximum fine of up to $200,000.
  • Increase maximum compensation for loss or damage to property from $25,000 to $100,000.
  • The Occupiers' Liability Act would be amended to reduce homeowners' liability for injuries or death caused to trespassers, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018.
  • Following a crime, the limitation period would be suspended "pending determination of possible conduct on the part of the property owner."
  • Land used for crops, raising animals and beekeeping would be explicitly mentioned in the Petty Trespass Act

The government says changes to protect property owners from legal recourse under the Occupiers' Liability Act would not change that homeowner's legal duty to trespassers who are not committing, or who are about to commit a crime.

"It is important that property owners remember that they can still be held criminally responsible for their actions and should call law enforcement to deal with trespassers," the province said in a news release.

The bill follows the high-profile trespassing case of Edouard Maurice, who faced criminal charges and was later sued by an intruder he shot on his property in southern Alberta. Maurice has filed a countersuit against Ryan Watson and both cases are still before the court.

"What happened to him was so relatable to Albertans," Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said at the legislature Tuesday. "The system was giving too many rights to criminals, not giving rights to law-abiding Albertans on their properties."

Schweitzer had been travelling the province to speak with residents in rural communities on his so-called "rural crime tour."

The province has also pledged to add 400 peace officers to the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch and traffic arm of Alberta Sheriffs, who will all be trained to assist RCMP by fall 2020.