Quebec man who blamed wildfires on government pleads guilty to setting 14 fires
January 16, 2024 By Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
A Quebec man who posted conspiracy theories online that forest fires were being deliberately set by the government has pleaded guilty to starting a series of fires himself that forced hundreds of people from their homes.
Brian Paré, 38, pleaded guilty Monday to 13 counts of arson and one count of arson with disregard for human life at the courthouse in Chibougamau, Que.
Prosecutor Marie-Philippe Charron told the court that two of the 14 fires set by Paré forced the evacuation of around 500 homes in Chapais, Que., a small community located around 425 kilometres northwest of Quebec City.
“On May 31 at 8:30 p.m., the town of Chapais issued a mandatory evacuation order due to the raging fires, in particular the fire at Lake Cavan as well as the airport fire, two fires that are included in the charges and were cause by the accused,” Charron said as she presented an agreed statement of facts.
Residents of the town weren’t able to return home until June 3, Charron said. The Lake Cavan fire was by far the biggest set by Paré, burning nearly 873 hectares of forest, she said. It was also one of the first in a series of five blazes Paré ignited between May 31 and June 1 — the spree started three days after the Quebec government banned open fires in or around forests due to dry weather conditions.
Five fires in a short period of time in the same area raised suspicion, Charron said. Provincial police and first responders “observed that some of the fires had no possible natural cause,” she said, adding that evidence was found that some of the fires had been criminally set.
Charron said police first spoke to Paré on June 2. He had been seen in the area around where a fire had started and was considered a witness. While he denied causing the fires, she said Paré “demonstrated a certain interest in fires” during the interview, which led police to suspect him.
In June, she said, police began watching Paré’s Facebook page, where he regularly posted about Quebec’s record-breaking forest fire season. Among those posts, which remain on his public Facebook page, were claims the fires had been deliberately set by the government to trick people into believing in climate change.
Paré’s ideology and behaviour — including those Facebook posts — matched a profile of the suspect developed by provincial police specialists, she said.
Charron said police obtained a warrant to install a tracking device on Paré’s vehicle. On Sept. 1 and Sept. 5, she said, that tracking device showed he was at locations where other fires were started.
Paré was arrested on Sept. 7, she said, and when questioned this time, he admitted to starting nine of the fires.
“At this point, the accused admitted he was the one who started the fires and, as his main motivation, claimed he was doing tests to find out whether the forest was really dry or not,” Charron said.
Paré, who has been detained since his arrest, said little during the hearing, only responding “yes” to a series of questions from the judge.
A pre-sentencing report has been ordered that will consider both Paré’s mental state and the risk he poses to public safety. It will be submitted by April 22.
Two other charges — breaking and entering and causing a public nuisance — have been conditionally suspended, Charron said.
More than 700 forest fires burned over 4.5 million hectares of Quebec forest over the summer, according to the province’s forest fire service, which said 99.9 per cent of the fires were sparked by lightning.