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CRIMINAL CODE OFFENCES - Arson

Thursday, December 13, 2018 @ 8:17 AM  


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Appeal by the accused, Ludwig, from convictions for arson-related offences. The accused owned and occupied a unit within a multi-unit townhouse. Police responded to a complaint, partially opened the door of the accused's unit and observed flames from inside the residence. The accused exited the unit and lay down outside. Firefighters extinguished a small fire in the living room. They searched the rest of the unit and found the accused's dog upstairs. The firefighters were able to revive the animal. At trial, the accused argued that the Crown failed to prove he set the fire given expert evidence that the fire could have resulted from an electrical fault in a television. The trial judge concluded that the totality of the evidence proved the accused deliberately ignited a piece of paper under the base of the television. The accused was convicted of causing damage by fire with reckless disregard to whether the dwelling house was occupied, causing damage by fire threatening residents and property in proximity, and wilful endangerment of his dog. The trial judge imposed concurrent 12-month custodial terms with two years' probation for the arson offences, and a concurrent 30-day sentence with two years' probation for endangerment of the dog. The accused appealed.

HELD: Appeal allowed in part. The verdicts were not unreasonable. The expert witness's evidence favoured the view that the fire was deliberately set but did not exclude the possibility of an accidental electrical fire. However, combined with the other evidence regarding the accused's conduct and mental state, the totality of the evidence provided a firm basis for concluding the accused set the fire. In so finding, the trial judge properly considered all inferences reasonably available on the entirety of the evidence. The conviction for arson with reckless disregard to whether the dwelling house was occupied could not stand, as the Crown failed to prove that the unit was inhabited or occupied by anyone other than the accused. The conviction for arson threatening residents and property in proximity, and the sentence imposed, remained extant. The conviction for wilful endangerment of the dog could not stand, as it was not established that the trial judge addressed the issue of the accused's knowledge of the dog's presence. There was, however, evidence upon which the trial judge could conclude the accused knew the dog was in the townhouse. A new trial was ordered on the latter count.

R. v. Ludwig, [2018] O.J. No. 5796, Ontario Court of Appeal, G.R. Strathy C.J.O., D.H. Doherty and L.B. Roberts JJ.A., November 6, 2018. Digest No. TLD-December102018008