Last week, in the Chibougamau, Que., courthouse, Quebec resident Brian Paré, 38, pleaded guilty to setting 14 wildfires between May and September of 2023, one of which forced hundreds to evacuate their homes.
The court convicted Paré of 13 counts of arson and one count of arson with disregard for human life.
Paré’s wildfire spree started on May 29 when he lit two separate wildfires in forested areas near his hometown of Chibougamau. Over the next three days, Paré lit an additional five wildfires, one of which was at Lake Cavan near the village of Chapais.
The Lake Cavan wildfire, which occurred on May 31, burned around 900 hectares of forest and forced approximately 400 people to evacuate Chapais, said Marie-Philippe Charron, the lead prosecutor in Paré’s case, in an email. Affected residents weren’t able to return to their homes until June 3.
These incidents occurred during a province-wide fire ban due to dry conditions. Last year, Quebec was ravaged by wildfires with the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU), an organization that advocates for wildfire prevention in Quebec, reporting that nearly 4.5 million hectares of forest burned, approximately 1.1 million of which occurred in inhabited areas.
When investigators examined the wildfires around Chibougamau and Chapais, they determined that they were not caused naturally. Paré had been spotted in the area at the time of the wildfires, causing provincial police to identify him as a witness. When speaking with police, Paré denied lighting the wildfires but did show an interest in fires.
This led police to suspect Paré, especially after monitoring his Facebook page where he would post conspiracy theories claiming that the government was setting wildfires to make people believe in climate change.
Over the next two months, Paré lit five more wildfires around Chibougamau, one of which included burning down a fishing cabin that didn’t belong to him.
Eventually, police obtained a warrant to place a tracking device on Paré’s vehicle. The tracking device showed Paré at the site of two other wildfires set on September 1 and 5. Having gathered enough evidence, police arrested Paré on September 7.
According to Charron, Paré’s 13 counts of arson make him liable to imprisonment for up to 14 years. But his charge of arson with disregard for human life—the Lake Cavan wildfire—could see him imprisoned for life.
Before Paré’s sentence is announced, his lawyer has asked that a pre-sentencing report be submitted to the court on April 22, 2024. This report will examine Paré’s legal and social background to determine whether there are any extenuating circumstances that should influence the severity of his punishment.
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