Boy, 11, suspected of igniting $2M St. Catharines blaze won't be charged

Dan Dakin

By Dan Dakin, special to The Standard

A fire at a condo project under construction on Scott St. in St. Catharines. (Grant LaFleche/QMI Agency)

A fire at a condo project under construction on Scott St. in St. Catharines. (Grant LaFleche/QMI Agency)

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — An 11-year-old boy suspected of setting a $2-million condominium fire can’t be charged under the Criminal Code, so police will recommend he undergo arson counselling.

The spectacular blaze at the under-construction Walkers Creek Condominium development in St. Catharines, Ont., Saturday night sent thick black smoke across the area and heavily damaged 16 of the 44 units.

But Niagara Regional Police spokesman Const. Rich Gadreau said the Criminal Code is clear that children under 12 cannot be charged.

“It comes down to being able to assess when they’re that young, do they really know what they’re doing?” he said.

The Office of the Fire Marshal and St. Catharines Fire Department investigated the blaze and determined it had been intentionally set.

The police service issued a press release late Sunday saying an 11-year-old had been identified as the likely fire starter, and confirmed Monday the suspect was a boy.

“From our end, it’s one of those ones where it’s hard to walk away with something like that, but the act is there to protect children,” Gadreau said.

“It’s hard enough for us to establish criminal intent with an adult, let alone a child.”

He said police will recommend the boy’s parents enrol him in the Arson Prevention Program for Children.

Known as TAPP-C, the program is a joint effort by the St. Catharines Fire Department, NRP and Pathstone Mental Health to identify and intervene with kids and youths who show a tendency to start fires.

However, the program is entirely voluntary.

“Nine times out of 10, the fire setting isn’t the issue,” said St. Catharines fire inspector Vince Giovannini, who chairs the region’s TAPP-C

program. “It’s the underlying issues that we as a fire service are trying to get to.”

On social media, some have called for the boy’s parents to be held accountable for their child’s actions, but Gadreau said in this case, the parents cannot be held responsible because it doesn’t appear they were directly involved.

“If they were involved in any way to the point we could say they were part of the offence, they would be getting charged,” he said.

Fire Chief Mark Mehlenbacher said the specific cause of the blaze isn’t known.

Twitter: @dandakinmedia

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