The UCP government has a new plan to combat rural crime and to give victims a stronger voice in the justice system.

The province made the announcement at a ranch in Wetaskiwin County on Wednesday.

“We are sending a strong signal to rural Albertans who have been victimized for far too long. We have listened to you. We have heard you. And we are standing with you," Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said. "We want to ensure you know that we are going to do everything we can as a provincial government to help you feel safe in your communities.”

Schweitzer has been touring the province in recent weeks, speaking with rural residents in a series of rural crime town halls.

“The experience has been eye-opening. People in the bigger cities do not know the extent of the havoc that rural crime has caused communities, the impact that it’s had is leading to mental health issues, anxiety, the general feeling of not being safe in their communities,” said Schweitzer.

The new Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence Force – the RAPID Force – will allow 400 peace officers in the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch and the traffic arm of the Alberta Sheriffs to respond to a wider range of calls. They will be trained and ready to assist RCMP in fall 2020.

The government will introduce legislative changes to strengthen the rights of property owners, including trespass laws and biosecurity regulation.

“These measures will ensure that a criminal trespasser has no right of civil action against a law-abiding property owner who is defending their property and families against trespassers who are or who they believe to be in the process of committing a criminal act,” said Schweitzer.

The legislation would take effect retroactively to Jan. 1, 2018 according to Schweitzer.

While the case of Edouard Maurice wasn’t mentioned by the justice minister, the premier has previously expressed support for Maurice.

Maurice is an Okotoks farmer who is being sued by Ryan Watson, a Calgary man who has admitted to trespassing on Maurice’s property. Watson is suing Maurice for $100,000 for “general damages for pain and suffering” as well as an undetermined amount to cover loss of income after he was shot while on the property.

Maurice has since filed a countersuit against Watson, both cases are still before the court.

There will also be new support to help victims collect outstanding payments and restitution orders through a new Restitution Recoveries Program. And a new community impact statement program will allow groups of people to take part in the sentencing of offenders.

"As we promised, our government is taking immediate steps to make sure everyone feels safe and secure in their homes and in their communities,” said Jason Nixon, minister of Environment and Parks. 

With files from Jeff Lawrence, Kelsey Dyer, Steven Dyer, and Nicole Weisberg