The ongoing threat of wildfire is one that is becoming all too common throughout 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, all 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 currently the situation in Kamloops and elsewhere in BC.
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. Likewise 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 of 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 life long belongings may be subject to theft. All of these things, including the intentional and deliberate setting of a wildfire are a serious cause of concern throughout many regions of BC including here in the Okanagan where it has been reported two recent forest fires were intentionally set; one resulting in the loss of several homes in Lake Country and the other damaging a much loved public park.
My reason for raising these issues is currently there is no specific protection in the criminal code to deal with individuals who would commit crimes of this nature.
While theft and arson are subject to the Criminal Code, the action of committing these offences to create a wildfire or otherwise seek to commit criminal offences in relation to a wildfire are not specifically recognised under the criminal code. This leads me to my topic for this week’s report – should there be specific legal protection that references the intentional setting of a wildfire or committing acts of theft in relation to it?
In order to do this the Criminal Code would need to be amended; one possible approach would be to ensure that intentionally setting a wildfire or committing an act of theft in relation to a wildfire would be considered an aggravating factor in the sentencing of 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 wild fires 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 atDan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.