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Arsonist who set ex-girlfriend's house on fire in Squamish Nation community avoids jail time

Fire was "motivated by revenge", says judge
arson 331 Kawtin Road West Vancouver
An arson fire damaged a home at 331 Kawtin Road in West Vancouver on Aug. 23, 2020

A man who set fire to his ex-girlfriend’s house on the Squamish Nation’s Xwemelch'stn (Capilano 5) reserve in West Vancouver and tried to burn it down after she broke off their relationship will not go to jail but will serve a two-year sentence in the community, a North Vancouver provincial court judge has ruled.

Judge Joanne Challenger handed the conditional sentence plus three years’ probation to Scott Ryan Woods, 34, on Wednesday (Dec. 15), following Woods’ guilty plea to a charge of arson of an inhabited property.

At sentencing hearing held earlier this year, court heard how Woods set fire to a home at 331 Kawtin Road where his ex-girlfriend, her father, and her brother lived, after she refused to take his calls following the breakdown of their relationship.

On the night of the fire, Woods got drunk and began texting the ex-girlfriend threatening messages, telling her, “I guess your house gets it then,” said Challenger.

Shortly after the fire started, Woods again texted his ex-girlfriend, court heard during sentencing submissions, with the message, “I walked past your house and it's on fire, stupid. I saw the flames. I was trying to call you but I guess you don’t care.”

Security camera images from a nearby gas station obtained by police showed Woods picking up the gas minutes before he set fire to the house.

He made three attempts to set fire to the exterior of the house before putting a ladder up to an upstairs bathroom window, pouring the gas inside and setting it alight, said Challenger.

One family member who was home at the time heard a smoke alarm and managed to get out. He was later treated for smoke inhalation

Woods was arrested at the scene, where he had been observed by a neighbour with singed hair, smelling of gasoline.

He "candidly acknowledges that he was motivated by revenge against his former partner and her family," said the judge.

Challenger noted the fire did extensive damage, gutting the main floor of the house, which required extensive renovations.

The family lost the contents of their home including items of sentimental value.

The arson was also of “significant concern to the Squamish Nation,” because of the potential for damage to nearby homes, said Challenger.

Crown prosecutor Ariana Ward asked for a jail term of two to five years.

But Challenger ruled the “long-term interests of society” would be better served by Woods’ rehabilitation out of jail.

Woods had a dysfunctional childhood and history of substance abuse, said Challenger, but has made steps to turn his life around.

“This offence constituted him reaching his rock bottom,” she said, noting Woods hasn’t had a drink since the arson.

“He is eager to pursue treatment and wishes to remain sober.”

The judge ordered Woods to obey a curfew between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. during the first year of his conditional sentence and a curfew beginning at 10 p.m. during the second year. The judge also ordered Woods to abstain from drugs and alcohol, take counselling for substance abuse, anger management and mental health issues as directed. She also ordered him not to date or start a relationship with anyone until that person has been informed of his criminal record by a probation officer and not to possess any incendiary device outside of his home. Challenger ordered similar conditions, minus the curfews, for his term of probation. He was also banned from owning firearms for life.

Woods was also ordered not to contact his ex-girlfriend or her family, except through a restorative justice program, which she ordered him to take part in.

“The Squamish Nation, you owe them an apology. You put them at risk, their children, their homes, their safety,” said the judge.