Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teenage patient blamed for fire at kids hospital

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A recent $1-million arson that forced the evacuation of Winnipeg's Children's Hospital was set by a teenage patient undergoing emergency treatment, the Crown alleged this week.

The boy, 16, appeared in youth court this week where prosecutors sought and won an order to hold him behind bars to undergo a psychological assessment despite opposition from his lawyer. He cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. He has no prior criminal record.

He's presumed innocent and denies being responsible for setting the March 5 fire, which forced nearly100 children, including patients in the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units to evacuate the building into other parts of the Health Sciences Centre complex.

In support of the request for the psychological exam, the Crown read in a synopsis of the facts of the blaze and the months-long police investigation leading to the teen's arrest.

The fire started in an under-construction diagnostic imaging centre adjacent to the hospital.

An "incendiary device" was used to set the fire, police have said.

The youth, who was being treated at Children's Hospital, slipped away from staff and was missing for a period of time, with security "on alert" to watch for him because he was deemed a "flight risk," according to the Crown.

He's suspected of gaining access to the construction site and setting fire to a tarp, which spread, causing "significant damage."

Judge Don Slough was told the youth was ultimately found on the third floor of the hospital and returned to the emergency room by security.

Due to being "combative" with guards, he was handcuffed, detained under the Mental Health Act and was found in possession of a lighter and a cellphone, court heard.

He was discharged soon after without issue.

Security footage played a role in the investigation, the Crown said.

The youth wasn't arrested until July 27 after he turned himself in to police accompanied by a relative.

He placed himself at the construction site, indicated he was holding a lighter and he saw nobody else there, the Crown said of the allegations arising out of his police interview.

"He got caught up in what could have been a tarp and the lighter could have lit the tarp on fire were his comments," Slough was told.

He was released on a promise to appear in court at a later date and with conditions to abstain from drugs and alcohol.

An out-of-custody court date was set for Sept. 24, but he was taken into custody and held at the Manitoba Youth Centre last week after police found him heavily intoxicated at a Keewatin Street gas station early on Aug. 27, court heard.

He had to be taken to hospital for evaluation because of his impairment, Slough was told.

Defence lawyer Candace Olson opposed keeping the youth locked up pending the psych exam, saying her client saw two mental-health professionals while at the Children's Hospital and they found no concerns.

"He has been assessed for issues that have been underlying. There was nothing found to be a problem," Olson said.

"Well, I'm concerned," said Slough. "The forensic assessment is appropriate on whether or not you pose a risk should the court be asked to consider your release on bail," he said.

The assessment will take about a week to complete, court heard.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 5, 2013 A3

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