'Burning' wildfire arsonists

The ongoing threat of wildfires is all too common in many parts of British Columbia.

When these fires occur, they can cause massive amounts of damage that it is virtually unmeasurable for those who may lose a home, their belongings and a lifetime of memories. 

Economically, aside from the tremendous costs in fighting forest fires, there is also the loss of Crown timber and a lack of fibre can ultimately threaten the viability of a lumber mill.

From a health standpoint, the diminished air quality can cause harm to those with respiratory challenges who are often seniors. First responders and emergency service personnel can also be seriously stretched to the limit during a wildfire as is the situation in Kamloops and elsewhere in B.C.

I mention all of these things as it is particularly disturbing to learn that some forest fires may well be intentionally set with the use of accelerants.

More recently, we have heard alarming reports of critically needed firefighting equipment being stolen and worse for those who may be evacuated because of a wildfire threat, their homes or business may be looted.

All these actions are deeply troubling and very concerning for all involved.

Looting of evacuated homes of evacuees is particularly worrying as it places greater demands on law enforcement at a time when resources are already spread thin.

Further, the evacuation process can be potentially undermined if residents feel their belongings might be stolen.

All these things, including the deliberate setting of a wildfire are a serious cause of concern throughout many regions of B.C., including here in the Okanagan where two recent forest fires were intentionally set.

One resulted in the loss of several homes in Lake Country and the other damaged a much loved public park.

I'm raising these issues because there is no specific protection in the Criminal Code to deal with individuals who commit crimes of this nature.

While theft and arson are subject to the Criminal Code, starting a wildfire or otherwise committing criminal offences in relation to a wildfire are not specifically recognized.

This leads me to my topic for this week’s report – should there be specific legal protection that refers to wildfire arson wildfire or committing acts of theft in relation to it?

To do this, the Criminal Code would need to be amended.

One possible approach would be to ensure that  wildfire arson or committing an act of theft in relation to a wildfire would be considered an aggravating factor in the sentencing the offenders.

By extension, the sentences for committing these types of crimes could also be stiffer. The use of aggravating factors in the sentencing of offenders already exists in the Criminal Code for cases involving offences around children and most recently for elder abuse. 

My question this week:

  • Do you support the idea of implementing aggravating factors in sentencing offenders who are guilty of intentionally setting wildfires or engaging in criminal actions as a result of a wildfire?

I welcome your comments, questions and concerns on this or any topic before the House of Commons.  I can be reached at [email protected] or call 1-800-665-8711 toll free.


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About the Author

Dan Albas, Conservative member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, is the shadow minister of innovation, science, economic development and internal trade, and sits on the standing committee on finance.

Before entering public life, Dan was the owner of Kick City Martial Arts, responsible for training hundreds of men, women and youth to bring out their best.

In British Columbia, Dan has been consistently one of the lowest spending MPs on office and administration related costs despite operating two offices to better serve local constituents.

Dan is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 most active members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

He can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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