What is Arson?
Arson is an offence classified under “wilful and forbidden acts in respect of certain property” in the Criminal Code of Canada (the “Code”). This is a serious offence, with the maximum punishment including life imprisonment.
In Edmonton, statistics show that incidents of arson are on the rise. In 2016 there were 396 incidents of arson, compared to 508 in 2019. Due to the immense danger and potential for loss (whether human, or property), the Edmonton Police Service is on high alert for this type of offence and the punishments reflect the seriousness of the charge.
The main component of arson is the dangerous use of fire or explosives. In Canada, the Code recognizes five different types:
- Setting a fire that causes bodily harm to another person or being reckless as to whether the property set on fire is occupied by one or more people;
- Setting a fire that intentionally causes damage to another person’s property or is reckless as to whether damage ensues;
- Setting a fire on your own property that damages your own property and seriously threatens the health, safety, or property of another person;
- Causing damage by fire to property with the intent of committing fraud (e.g. collecting insurance money);
- Letting a fire get out of control and causing bodily harm to another person by being negligent.
The relevant provision for arson in the Code begins at section 433:
Fire is unpredictable and capable of causing danger to human life and damage to property. For these reasons, the court tends to take arson charges very seriously, even those that involve relatively small fires. It is critical that you have a competent criminal defence lawyer to thoroughly review the case against you and ensure you get the best outcome.
Investigation of Arson Charges in Edmonton
During an investigation of arson, the Edmonton Police Service work alongside Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS) to gather evidence and piece together how the offence occurred.
At the beginning of the investigation, EFRS will first work to identify internal evidence such as where the fire originated and the source of the ignition. While this is happening, Edmonton Police Service will gather external evidence such as statements from witnesses and talking to the victim of the fire who may be able to identify a potential motive. EFRS and the police will then come together with the evidence collected to establish their theory of what happened and any suspects they believe were involved.
Once all of the available evidence is collected, police will arrest you if they believe you are the perpetrator. If you are not present at the scene, the police will track you down or issue a warrant for your arrest.
Bail Process and Conditions for Arson Charges in Edmonton
How do I get myself or a loved one out on bail for arson charges in Edmonton?
When charged with arson, you will likely be kept in custody and require a formal bail hearing to secure your release.
The bail hearing must be held within 24 hours, a period that starts from the moment of arrest or detention rather than the time when you are brought to the district office or courthouse.
In order to conduct a bail hearing, you will be transferred from the district office to the Arrest Processing Unit in the basement of the Edmonton Police Headquarters.
Edmonton Police Service Headquarters is located downtown at:
Edmonton Police Service Headquarters
9620 103a Ave NW
Edmonton, AB T5H 0H7
Loved ones are not able to contact you while you are detained. The police will not release any information to friends or family due to privacy laws. Your lawyer is the only person allowed to contact you. Once the police have verified your lawyer’s details, they will pass on information about your whereabouts, if requested.
Because of these difficulties while you are held in custody, it is best to appoint a competent defence lawyer as soon as possible to manage the legal processes and communicate with loved ones. After an arrest, the police must provide you with the opportunity to call a lawyer in private and, if that happens, stop questioning you.
Once you retain one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers, we will begin working to secure your release on bail.
We will immediately do the following:
- Call in to the Arrest Processing Unit in Edmonton and speak to you.
- Contact the prosecutor assigned to the bail hearing to start negotiating your release.
- Order and secure a copy of the police information package that details the allegations against you in advance of the bail hearing. This allows the lawyer to make meaningful representations to the court about why you should be released on bail.
- Conduct either an in-person or teleconference bail hearing to secure your release.
When you attend your bail hearing, the judge will consider:
- Is detention necessary to secure your attendance in court?
- Is detention necessary to protect the public from a substantial risk of re-offence?
- Is detention necessary in all the circumstances to maintain confidence in the administration of justice?
Due to the serious nature of arson allegations, the Crown Prosecutor is likely to request your detention until the charges are completed in the court system. Therefore, the court may deny your release. If you are released, you will likely face tight restrictions (see below).
Rest assured, we will work to not only secure your release but also to ensure the least restrictive set of bail conditions (including the minimum cash deposit).
Our lawyers are often successful at persuading the prosecutor in charge of bail to let our clients out. If we can’t convince the Crown, we can conduct a formal bail hearing and work to convince the court. Even if you are ultimately detained, we can appeal that decision on very short notice through a bail review, which is conducted at the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta.
Where can I pay bail for arson charges in Edmonton?
If you or a loved one are charged with arson in Edmonton and granted bail, you may be required to provide a cash deposit to secure release. The cash deposit can be paid at any courthouse in Alberta. Even if you live in Calgary, you can pay bail there for someone detained in Edmonton.
Bail hearing offices in Edmonton are open from 8 a.m. until midnight, seven days a week.
The Edmonton Bail Hearing Office is located at:
10365 97 Street NW
Edmonton, AB T4J 3W7
You can also make a bail payment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at the Edmonton Remand Centre:
Edmonton Remand Centre
18415 127 Street NW
Edmonton, AB T6V 1B1
To pay your own bail, you can make a payment after your hearing, assuming you have sufficient funds with you to do so.
How do I change my release conditions for arson charges in Edmonton?
Release on bail with arson charges will almost always require a surety, cash, or no-cash deposit.
Furthermore, you can expect tight restrictions, including conditions to refrain from:
- Leaving your house (i.e. house arrest);
- Staying out beyond a certain time (i.e. curfew);
- Breaking any laws;
- Using drugs or alcohol;
- Possessing weapons;
- Possessing firearms;
- Visiting certain places; and/or
The judge may also impose additional conditions such as:
- Residing where approved;
- Reporting to probation;
- Attending counselling; and/or
- Maintaining or seeking employment.
A variety of factors will be considered when determining your precise restrictions, including:
- Your criminal history;
- Your physical and mental condition;
- Your history of drug/alcohol usage;
- The nature of the alleged offence;
- The likelihood that you will flee;
- Whether you have stable employment;
- Whether you have stable living arrangements; and
- Whether you have ties to the community.
If you have already been released, at least for the short term, it is critical that you make arrangements to abide by your conditions until they can be changed. Breaching the terms of your release can result in further charges or a revocation of your bail, as well as a forfeiture of any cash paid to secure your release. It is important to take these conditions seriously.
Once the matter is in court, we can work with the Crown Prosecutor to alter your conditions. This includes either adding exceptions to some of the conditions or eliminating them altogether.
If your court date is far away and you cannot wait until then, we can arrange to have the matter dealt with sooner. Our first priority is always to stabilize your release conditions. That way, you will not feel pressured to plead guilty because of the restrictive terms of your release. Once the conditions are manageable and minimally intrusive to your daily routine, we can focus 100% of our attention on defending the case.
Penalties for Arson Charges in Edmonton
Arson for fraudulent purpose and arson by negligence are both hybrid offences, meaning the Crown can elect to proceed by summary or indictment. This decision impacts the punishments that are available to you, with indictment being more severe. If you are charged with arson with a disregard for human life, damage to property, or damage to own property, the Crown must proceed by indictment.
The maximum punishments for arson include:
- Arson for fraudulent purpose: A fine of not more than $5,000, a term of imprisonment of not more than two years less a day, or both.
- Arson by negligence: A fine of not more than $5,000, a term of imprisonment of not more than two years less a day, or both.
- Arson for fraudulent purpose: Up to 10 years’ imprisonment;
- Arson by negligence: Up to 5 years’ imprisonment;
- Arson – disregard for human life: Up to life imprisonment;
- Arson – damage to property: Up to 14 years’ imprisonment;
- Arson – own property: Up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
In addition, punishments will also likely include:
- A DNA order;
- Prohibition from possessing a weapon; and/or
- Payment to the victim(s) for damage caused.
A conviction for arson can have many negative consequences on your future. You may experience difficulties securing employment in the field of your choice. The lifelong criminal record that results from a conviction can also hinder immigration, travel and child custody arrangements. You will almost certainly face higher insurance premiums as well.
For these reasons, even if you intend to accept responsibility for the offence, it is worthwhile to explore your options and consider all of the potential penalties. Even if the evidence is stacked against you, it may be possible to negotiate a resolution to avoid a lengthy jail sentence. Furthermore, a community-based sentence may be obtained even where the Crown is seeking jail time.
Rest assured, our lawyers will work hard to defend you so that you are not saddled with the consequences that stem from a conviction. In fact, we can canvass a range of sentencing options with the prosecutors that will either leave you with no criminal record or impose minimal restrictions on your liberty after sentencing. To learn more about potential non-criminal resolutions, please visit our resolutions page, or read our FAQ on resolutions and other sentencing options.
Defending Arson Charges in Edmonton
What are the best defences to arson charges in Edmonton?
Because of the list of offences that fall under the umbrella of “arson,” and the varied circumstances involved in such charges, there are many different possible defences. It is important for your criminal defence lawyer to review the facts of your case and prepare your defence accordingly.
Some effective defences to arson charges include:
- Factual Innocence: This is usually the strongest defence because the facts and the evidence do not support you being there or other basic elements of the offence. This could include:
- Identity: In some circumstances, you may be able to raise an identity defence. For example, authorities could have made a mistake in identifying you as the perpetrator. To effectively raise this defence, you may need corroborative evidence, such as an alibi to where you were at the time of the offence.
- Lack of Mens Rea: To be convicted of arson as disregard for human life, damage to property, damage to own property or damage to defraud you must have intentionally (or recklessly) caused the damage. If it can be shown that you had no intent, and were not reckless, you can challenge the mental element of these offences and potentially have the charge reduced to the lesser offence of arson by negligence.
- No Evidence of Deliberate or Negligent Ignition: Although investigations into arson are highly scientific and involve reliable evidence gathering techniques if the prosecutor is unable to provide evidence that the fire was caused either negligently or deliberately, reasonable doubt can be established which may lead to a full defence.
- Colour of Right: Per section 429(2) of the Code, you cannot be convicted of arson if you successfully raise the defence of colour of right. To utilize this defence, it must be shown that you honestly (though mistakenly) believed that at the time of the offence you had the right to take the actions you did.
- Violation of Constitutional Rights: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) sets out your rights before and after your arrest. If the police fail to abide by these rights, it can aid your defence.
As mentioned, arson offences are extremely technical, often involving specialists which results in a great deal of expert evidence and police reports. Defences for arson, therefore, vary greatly based on the facts of your specific case.
In addition to the above general defences, we will complete a thorough review of every document in the investigation and consider the following:
- Will the prosecution be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you started the fire or explosion?
- Is there a credible alternative explanation for the cause of the fire?
- Are there any eyewitnesses that saw you do it? Are their statements unreliable or untrustworthy?
- Did anyone else have a motive to start the fire?
- Did you take all necessary safety precautions before starting the fire?
How can I help defend arson charges in Edmonton?
If you have been charged with arson in Edmonton, the following can help your lawyer build a strong defence:
- Take detailed notes about your version of events to provide to your lawyer;
- Collect and maintain all documents and records about the event;
- Gather a list of witnesses that may support your version of events, if applicable; and
- Log any relevant texts, emails, phone calls or photographic evidence.
What information is relevant will depend on the facts of your case. As soon as you are released, you should start to gather any information that may be of use to your lawyer. If you are uncertain what information may be relevant, you should contact one of our lawyers immediately to create a plan of action for gathering information.
To be truly proactive about the matter, consider doing the following:
- Secure proof of employment;
- Secure reference letters;
- Enroll in counselling (e.g. alcohol or drug rehabilitation);
- Secure a record of prescriptions; and
- Secure a record of any mental health conditions you suffer from.
These steps can be very helpful in building an effective defence (or convincing the prosecutor to drop the charges altogether).
What can a lawyer do to help me defend against arson charges in Edmonton?
As we start preparing your defence by examining police actions and the evidence against you, there are certain strategies that can be used to aid your cause.
Some of these strategies include the following:
- Assembling documents, photos, texts, etc. that contradict the allegation and support your version of events;
- Identifying mistakes in the actions of the police, such as Charter breaches; and
- Uncovering administrative/systemic errors, such as “Jordan delay,” non-disclosure, lost or destroyed evidence, etc.
Our experienced defence lawyers will use the most effective defence against the charges according to the precise circumstances of your case. Even if the charges proceed and you are found guilty, a good lawyer can significantly reduce the severity of the consequences for you.
Below are a few notable cases dealing with various aspects of arsons charges:
In R v Tatton, 2015 SCC 33 the accused was charged with arson causing damage to property. The accused was an alcoholic who admitted that he experienced blackouts whereby he had no recollection of events that took place while intoxicated. On the night of the offence, while intoxicated, the accused decided to cook bacon at his girlfriend’s house, leaving the stove on high and then leaving the home. Upon returning, the house was on fire. At issue was whether the defence of intoxication could be used. The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) determined that arson is a general intent offence meaning his intent to start the fire was irrelevant. Though the accused was intoxicated, he could not rely on this as a defence because an intoxicated person could still foresee the risk of fire to someone else’s property. The SCC ordered a new trial.
In R v Ndlovu, 2018 MBPC 17 two accused were jointly charged with four arson-related offences. At issue was whether the credibility and reliability of the complainant was sufficient enough in conjunction with his eyewitness identification of both accused. The complainant and accused were members of rivaling gangs. There were prior incidents between both parties that made it clear there was conflict between them. The night of the offence, the accused was staying in a house which was “fire bombed” with two glass bottles thrown through two different windows of the house. The complainant identified both of the accused to police after he was able to flee the house, as he believed he saw them outside. The court rejected the complainant’s eyewitness identification because the conditions outside of the house were too poor to accurately identify both of the accused. Furthermore, the descriptions the complainant provided to police were very general. These concerns were enhanced by the complainant’s credibility and reliability issues in being a member of a gang, drug trafficker and having obvious animosity towards both men. Both of the accused were acquitted of all arson related charges.
Most of the information above relates to simple arson cases, which can still be complex and fact-specific. The circumstances of your case will likely further complicate the matter.
We have tried our best to provide a general outline of what you can expect if you find yourself in this situation, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
To learn more about how we can help, please contact our team of arson lawyers. We will conduct a thorough review of your situation and tailor a precise strategy that targets your successful defence.