EDITORIAL – Coming up with the right punishment for arsonists is a challenge


An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

WITH ALL THE URBAN FIRES in Kamloops lately, and investigations into their causes, the possibility of arson has been much in the news.

One of the frightening things about arson is that there’s no defense against it. We can Firesmart our homes and businesses but that won’t necessarily stop an arsonist.

All kinds of different things motivate them, from personal profit to vandalism to social protest to revenge, jealousy, retaliation and pyromania. The latter is an impulse control disorder in which people have a strong urge to start fires.

The frightening thing about that is that it means they’re likely to do it again and again. Deliberately set fires can do tremendous property damage and also obviously be life threatening.

So what about punishment? It’s a challenging question.

An arsonist who set three fires in Burnaby has been sentenced to five years in prison plus three years’ probation after he’s released. Two of the fires resulted in more than $550,000 damage to two restaurants.

In Canada, arsonists can get as much as 10 years in prison, though that’s rare. Actual penalties seem to range quite widely across the country, from suspended sentences to serious prison time. In other countries, an arsonist might get off with a fine, but some lawmakers have pushed — unsuccessfully as far as I know — for automatic life imprisonment.

There are many questions about what factors should be considered, such as the amount of the loss. But should intentions be the main consideration, or whether or not the attempt was successful?

And, what to do with someone who has mental health challenges vs. one simply out for revenge? The result of the crime could be the same.

Me, I lean toward strong penalties and, for those who need it, mandatory treatment as well. Aside from justice for those impacted by the crime, the main objective should be to make it stop.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.

Mel Rothenburger is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a recipient of the Jack Webster Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He has served as mayor of Kamloops, school board chair and TNRD director, and is a retired daily newspaper editor. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (9634 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on EDITORIAL – Coming up with the right punishment for arsonists is a challenge

  1. DENIS WALSH // May 16, 2023 at 11:30 AM // Reply

    Since my recent experience of being within literally minutes from not only loosing our home to a criminal arsonist who I believe purposely set fire to the extreme fire hazard in the park hill next to our house, with a strong wind blowing directly towards our house, I have lost a big chunk of my compassion. I believe the charges and sentencing for arson should be similar to attempted murder, as had I not being awake at midnight we or possibly one of our neighbours could have died as a result of this criminal act.
    The arsonist apparently watched for 4-5 minutes as the panic ensued from his first criminal act and then set two more fires in the bushes on both sides of the only driveway that offers an escape path.
    My appreciation and gratitude goes to KFR for arriving just in the nick of time, to put out all three fires before they could cause any further damage. My next door neighbour never did wake up through the chaos and sirens, with one of the fires on the edge of her driveway, in her yard. Sleepless nights and mistrust are now the norm, especially now with an emergency shelter located next door.
    Harm reduction is obviously not working and our leaders need to grow a spine and do the right thing. The obvious solution has been staring at them for many years, we need to shift our current focus, which is causing the dangerous increase in crimes and social disorder we all see in our community. ENFORCEMENT, TREATMENT and PREVENTION are my 3 pillars and that is the direction where we need to focus the majority of our financial resources.
    Our community must start lobbying City Hall and Council members heavily, to advocate for our provincial government to change direction and immediately start building involuntary recovery centres/communities for both the safety of the addicts and mentally ill and the safety of residents in our community.
    Denis Walsh

    • John Noakes // May 16, 2023 at 2:26 PM // Reply

      There is nothing like first hand experience to make an indelible mark upon one’s being.
      Such was the case with the crackshack of Westmount up to and including me paying for analyzing water samples from runoff onto the city street.

      Our situation has now become life and death as far as being exposed to mental health and addiction issues. Can we ever forget that “concentration camp” mentality put forth by a local councillor? Let’s hope so.

      As more and more citizens take a defensive stance against the spectre of arson fires, let’s hope that the person or persons responsible can be apprehended and placed in custody with appropriate charges. The possibility exists of someone being caught in the act by a home owner or a group of citizens resulting in a type of vigilante response. Let’s hope that law enforcement personnel can make an arrest in time.

    • Change could be easily coming…given the right political mindset. Politicians with a resolve to say this is enough but in this new “woke” paradigm ain’t gonna happen.

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