Derelict Harvest: Rural exploration, legalities and a Code of Conduct Part 1


Much like urban exploration (urbex), the exploring of abandoned places in an urban environment, rural exploration (rurex) is about locating and exploring abandoned places in a rural environment. Terms come and go, but generally the term UE (urban exploration) is used to encompass both types of exploration. The term “Bando” seems to be gaining allot of popularity these days. No matter what you call it, rural exploration is about adventure, discovery and an appreciation for old homesteads, and other buildings, before they disappear forever.

Legalities

Simply put, exploration of abandoned buildings is trespassing on someone’s property. It is illegal and potentially dangerous. Under the Petty Trespass Act of Alberta, where we do most of our exploring and the act applies, you could be arrested and/or potentially fined for going onto someone’s property without permission. This includes land that is farmed (fenced or not), fenced, or enclosed in a way that indicates the owners intention to keep people off. Notice can given either orally, in writing, or by signs that are visibly displayed. In very general terms, all Canadian provinces have similar trespass acts.

Having a basic understanding of the Criminal Code of Canada, and how certain offenses apply to UE, is good to know as your actions while in an abandoned building could lead to serious consequences when dealing with law enforcement. Look at the scenarios below, with our explorer named DH, who spots an old homestead out in a field while driving. He decides to stop his car, grabs his camera and crosses the field to explore it. I’m not a lawyer, so consider the following scenarios as points to ponder only.

Scenario 1: The door is wide open and he goes inside. He sees many old bottles, antique cans and some furniture. DH explores the house, photographs his discoveries and then leaves. A great find! He trespassed and trespassing is a provincial offense. If police are called he may be arrested and possibly receive a ticket (a fine).

Scenario 2: The door is locked and there is no other way in. He forces the door open with a simple push, goes inside, and sees many old bottles, antique cans and some furniture. DH explores the house, photographs his discoveries and then leaves. A great find! He trespassed but has now committed a Criminal Act. This is Mischief (vandalism) in Canada. Not only could he be fined, if the police are called he could be arrested and criminally charged.

Scenario 3: The door is locked and there is no other way in. He forces the door open with a simple push, goes inside, and sees many old bottles, antique cans and some furniture. DH explores the house takes some pictures, writes his name on a wall with a Graffiti Marker ”DH was here!”, and leaves. A great find! Not only did he commit one count of Mischief but DH has now committed a second count of Mischief by writing on the wall. The fact that DH committed a second act of Mischief by writing on the wall, the forcing of the door to gain entry now technically becomes a Break and Enter. If the police are called DH has allot of explaining to do. He could be arrested and criminally charged.

Scenario 4: The door is closed, but unlocked, and he goes inside. He sees many old bottles, antique cans and some furniture. DH explores the house takes some pictures, as well as some bottles and a small mirror, and leaves. A great find with a few mementos as well! DH has now committed Theft. By opening the door and walking into the house and stealing items inside, DH committed a Break and Enter in addition to the Theft. Simply walking through a doorway to commit a crime inside a building is considered a Break and Enter. If the police are called DH is in a heap of trouble! He will most likely be arrested and criminally charged.

So what has been our experiences with property owners and the law? In the over 300 plus locations we’ve explored we were caught once by the RCMP, who explained we were trespassing and we stated we would leave. End of story. And one instance of a property owner who caught us and asked us to leave. I apologized, said exactly what we were doing (taking pictures) and left. End of story.


The Debate of Protection


Many urban explorers will carry a knife for protection for the "just in case" scenario. In Canada you are lawfully able to carry a knife, as long as it is not concealed, and there is no intent to harm anyone. Personally, I don’t want to be having this discussion with a police officer after having being caught on an abandoned property and explaining my need for protection.

Code of Conduct

Codes of Conduct among urban explorers have developed over time. As a general rule of thumb, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”, is a good rule to follow. Our team follows a few simple rules:

Never force entry into a building (consider it a find and move on)
Take nothing but pictures (they are your treasures)
Do not vandalize in any way (let the next explorer appreciate the find)
Do not share the location (minimizes theft and vandalism)
Do not carry any kind of weapon

Further reading:
Derelict Harvest: Rural exploration, legalities and a Code of Conduct Part 1
Derelict Harvest: The method to our madness Part 2
Derelict Harvest: Hazards of rural exploration Part 3

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