Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Arsonist set blaze after CFS staff ends monitoring

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Child and Family Services support workers relaxed their supervision of a high-risk serial arsonist because they weren't getting paid, setting the stage for him to slip away and set a dangerous blaze, court heard Thursday.

That's the concerning backdrop to the latest arson conviction for the 15-year-old -- his eighth in less than two years.

In May, the cognitively challenged offender was released from jail to a new foster home in a rural community after being convicted of setting several fires in downtown Winnipeg.

Under a plan endorsed by Awasis Child and Family Services, he was to have two people -- either his foster dad and a support worker, or two support workers -- watch over him at all times, court heard.

But by July 23, his support workers hadn't been paid and they relaxed their supervision of him. He went missing after curfew and was found around 10:30 p.m., which was around the time RCMP were called to a fire in an abandoned trailer.

Police found a fire had been set inside a small fridge, which was placed in the middle of the floor. A propane tank had been turned to the 'on' position, Judge Catherine Carlson heard. The teen admitted he was responsible.

"He was not properly supervised by the support workers," Crown attorney Melissa Carlson (no relation to the judge) said in requesting the judge keep the offender in custody so a plan could be developed that would better protect the public.

"He was apparently walking in between two residences when he wandered off and was not being followed by the support workers... There's an indication from (the teen's foster dad) that the agency hadn't paid the support workers and this was directly affecting their willingness to properly supervise him in the residence," Carlson said.

Defence lawyer Hillarie Tasche confirmed the non-payment.

She said the arsonist's new foster family struggled to deal with the problem: "The foster family had been struggling with motivating the workers because the workers weren't being paid," said Tasche. "And that's something that's extremely troubling... and directly led to a breakdown of supervision," she said.

It appears the arson set off some alarm bells with CFS officials.

Tasche said since the teen's latest arrest, the workers have been given extra training and the payment issue has been sorted out.

The Crown opposed setting the offender free based on the same "wholly inadequate" community-release plan as before. His latest arson was an escalation of prior arsons, prosecutor Carlson said. "We know where we ended up that time around," she said.

In addition to having an IQ below 50, the teen suffers from cognitive disorders due to exposure to alcohol and drugs in the womb. His ability to understand the consequences of his actions is diminished. When he gets bored or angry, he sets fires, court has heard.

"We're dealing with a youth that's just above the threshold for prosecution," Tasche said.

Judge Carlson said the release plan is still sound, but hinges on him being adequately supervised.

She ruled to keep him in custody for at least a month before he will be granted absences from jail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2013 B3

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