Games centre arsonists tried to blame aboriginal person, court told

One of the two young girls charged with setting fire to the Canada Games Centre last summer started crying in court Wednesday when Judge Michael Cozens asked her what she thought about the whole situation.

One of the two young girls charged with setting fire to the Canada Games Centre last summer started crying in court Wednesday when Judge Michael Cozens asked her what she thought about the whole situation.

The 13-year-old, who was charged along with a 12-year-old, told Cozens she felt ashamed of herself.

On June 24, 2011 the two girls and an 11-year-old boy pulled down some of the speed skating mats around the Olympic-size ATCO ice rink to build a fort, prosecutor Bonnie Macdonald told the court.

Both of the teenage girls had Bic lighters and began lighting the ends of the mats’ handles. When the flame grew bigger they ran, said Macdonald, as she read from the facts of the case and police reports.

While the teenagers ran past three fire alarms, and many adults, they didn’t stop to warn anyone or pull the alarms, Macdonald continued.

By the time the centre’s manager was told about the fire and ran to put it out with a colleague and hand-held fire extinguishers, the flames were more than four metres high and reaching to the pipe systems.

When firefighters arrived, followed by the police, the three teenagers were pointed out as witnesses.

The three were not considered suspects until after video surveillance proved their statements to police were full of lies, Macdonald said.

Within the 40 to 45 minutes from when the fire started to when the girls were questioned, they had text messaged each other to hatch a plan to pin the fire on a young First Nation woman, Macdonald told the court.

She submitted printed copies, pointing out they stuck to their plan when talking to police by saying they both saw a First Nation girl, who was taller than them, walk out of the change room in that area.

After watching the surveillance tapes, police interviewed the 11-year-old boy again. He told them the girls lit the mats on fire and then threatened to punch him if he told anyone the truth, Macdonald told the court.

The 13-year-old girl was arrested that same day and reiterated many of the same facts when talking to police in front of her parents.

Defence lawyer Gordon Coffin said his client agreed with the facts, for the most part, and accepted responsibility for starting the fire.

He clarified, however, she never intended to cause as much damage as was caused.

There was no way she could ever have imagined that lighting a mat on fire would cause $5- to $7-million worth of damage, as officials have estimated the costs of the fire and cleanup, he said.

As well, the threats to punch the 11-year-old and then plan to pin the blame on someone else are all normal and expected actions of any child, and most adults, when scared and worried, he said.

Because the 13-year-old has had no previous run-ins with the law and behaved exceptionally well since her arrest, Macdonald suggested a sentence of six months house arrest and 18 months probation. She also said the girl not be allowed to have a cellphone.

When talking to the girl, Cozens asked her how she felt when other people at school said she was “cool” or “bad ass” for doing what she did.

She told the judge she didn’t know how to explain it.

He then asked her if she ever told them they were wrong to think that.

“Do you know it’s important to tell them that?” he said. “It wasn’t cool. It really had a significant, negative impact on the community. I can’t think of anyone in this community who wasn’t affected by it. Myself, I have three boys that play hockey. All territorial court judges … were affected.

“This has to become a stepping stone for you, away from anything like this. You’re only 13, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make wrong choices. Maybe you can remember how many people were hurt by this (at those times).”

Cozens told the girl that under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the court was not there to punish her but to hold her accountable.

When he asked her if she had anything else to say, she shook her head to indicate no.

He told her to read her letter of apology to the court. She said she wasn’t very good at reading aloud, but he encouraged her.

In her letter, she noted the loss of programming and physiotherapy for children and sick people as well as wages for employees.

“I understand why people would be angry at me,” she read.

“This apology is genuine and earnest,” she continued, stumbling over the pronunciation of “earnest.”

“I hope the community will forgive me someday,” she said.

Cozens reserved sentencing. The case is scheduled to return to court next month.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at