Arson, while not as common as other criminal offences, is a very serious criminal offence that can result in a jail sentence in many circumstances. There are 5 different offences for arson under the Criminal Code of Canada. All offences for arson are strictly indictable offences and many have a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment to imprisonment for life.
Arson – Disregard for Human Life
Under section 433 of the Criminal Code, arson occurs when an individual intentionally or recklessly causes damages to property by either setting a fire or causing an explosion. This offence for arson is unique because it also requires the Crown Attorney to prove that either;
1. The individual knew or was reckless to the possibility that there was someone occupying the property at the time the fire was set or the explosion occurred, or
2. the fire or the explosion caused bodily harm to another person
Identity can often be an issue for the Crown Attorney when trying to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The Crown Attorney must prove that it was you, and could not have been someone else who started the fire or caused the explosion. The mental element for this offence can also be an issue for trial. Under this section, the term reckless, requires that the Crown Attorney prove that you knew that damage to the property would likely result from your actions.
Under this section, it is irrelevant who owns the property that was damaged by the fire or explosion.
Arson – Damage to Property
This offence for arson also requires that the Crown Attorney prove that you intentionally or recklessly caused damage to property by setting the fire or causing an explosion. However, under this offence the Crown Attorney does not need to prove that the fire or explosion caused bodily harm or occurred when a person was occupying the property. This section deals with property that is not wholly owned by the person who set the fire or caused the explosion.
Arson – Own Property
Even in circumstances where you are the sole owner of the property, you can still be charged with arson. Once again, the Crown Attorney must prove that you intentionally or recklessly caused damaged to your property by fire or explosion. However, this offence for arson also requires the Crown Attorney to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the fire or explosion seriously threatened the health, safety or property of another person. Whether the fire or explosion “seriously threatens” the health, safety or property of another person will depend upon the facts of case.
Arson – For Fraudulent Purpose
For this arson offence, the Crown Attorney must prove that you caused damaged to property by fire or explosion with the intention of defrauding any other person, including an insurance company. Whether you own the property or you own a share of the property is completely irrelevant for this offence. In circumstances where you are the beneficiary under an insurance policy and you are alleged to have started the fire or caused the explosion, the court can infer that you had an intention to defraud.
Arson – Negligence
This section creates a criminal offence for arson where a person’s actions fall below the standard of care reasonably expected in the circumstances to prevent or control the spread of a fire. This section applies to anyone who owns the property, has partial ownership of the property, or has control of the property. The Crown Attorney must also prove that it was your negligence that caused the damage to the property or caused bodily harm to another person. However, the Crown Attorney does not need to prove that you started the fire or caused the explosion. So long as your actions were negligent and caused property damage or bodily harm, you can be convicted of arson under this section.
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Arson is a very serious criminal offence. If you have been charged with arson contact us immediately and arrange a free consultation. It is important you understand your rights and someone to help you defend these serious charges.
For information on other criminal offences related to property, see our post on Defending Mischief charges.