A Richmond man has been sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to three arsons at Metro Vancouver Masonic lodges.
Vancouver Provincial Court Judge Laura Bakan heard Nov. 8 that Benjamin Kohlman, 43, who has drug addiction problems, was hearing voices that told him to burn the buildings because the Masons were engaged in mind control of other people.
Bakan said Kohlman believed the buildings were used by “dark souls and evil,” that his actions were to draw attention to the Masons and the Illuminati.
Bakan said Kohlman, who appeared in court via video, had been using ecstasy and marijuana at the time.
She called the offence serious and said he had disrupted the community in general and Masonic lodge members in particular.
Kohlman, of Ontario Ojibway heritage, also believed Canada’s spy service, CSIS had tracking devices in his brain, the court heard.
The Nelson-born man has no criminal record and apologized for his actions through his lawyer. Bakan said she believed he was remorseful.
“It shows he has at least some insight into the great harm he caused,” Bakan said.
During the early morning hours of March 30, the Freemasons’ Lynn Valley Lodge on Lynn Valley Road and Capilano Lodge on Lonsdale Avenue went up in flames, followed shortly after by the Park Lodge Hall on Rupert Street in East Vancouver.
The damages to the buildings were $500,000, $2.1 million and $34,000 to $43,000, respectively, the court heard.
Bakan called the damage “excessive.”
Kohlman was charged with three counts of arson, three counts of break-and-enter to commit arson, one count of assaulting a police officer, and one count of failure to stop for police. The charges are in addition to one count of arson, one count of assaulting a police officer, and one count of failure to stop for police.
Crown prosecutor Jonas Dow told the court Kohlman bought gas at a Mountain Highway gas station and broke into the buildings, dousing them with fuel he ignited with a lighter.
It was a Vancouver Police Department officer who spotted the third blaze — and Kohlman at the scene.
The officer drew his gun and attempted to arrest Kohlman, who fled in a van.
The officer got the licence plate and, through ICBC records, was able to track Kohlman’s mobile phone. He was arrested at a Burnaby park, where he had built a campfire.
The gas can and pry bar were found in the van.
“The case against Mr. Kohlman was very strong on day one,” Dow told the court.
Bakan said Kohlman told police he had committed the arsons. He said he was on a mission to address the Masons' and Illuminati’s use of mind control.
“This is a mental-health situation brought about by Mr. Kohlman’s substance misuse,” Dow said, noting there was no intent to harm anyone or take revenge for anything.
The court heard Kohlman’s father killed his mother and then died by suicide when the child was about six. The father had survived residential school.
Kohlman moved to Vancouver around age 18 and his drug use worsened, the court heard.
Defence lawyer Jessica Dawkins said Kohlman has felt disconnected from his Indigenous heritage and is seeking to change that, in addition to addressing his addiction issues.
“He told me point blank he deserves to be punished and deserves time to be incarcerated,” Dawkins said.
While a psychiatric report was done, Kohlman waived his right for a determination of mental fitness to stand trial.
Bakan said Kohlman was coherent enough to drive his vehicle, buy gas, drive to the various buildings and then check them for occupants before setting them ablaze.
The judge said she took Kohlman’s mental health and Aboriginal status (including his father’s time in residential school) into account when crafting the sentence.
Kohlman has remained in custody for 223 days, for which he received a 335-day sentence credit. That means he’ll serve a further 865 days.
The remaining counts were stayed.
Freemasonry grew out of masonry; the earliest records related to the organization are around 600 years old from Europe.
Over the centuries, it has become known as a society of secrets with global connections.
The beginnings of Freemasonry in B.C. occurred around 1858 in Victoria, according to the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, by Freemasons who arrived on Vancouver Island from elsewhere. The first official lodge started operating a couple of years later.
This year, they're celebrating 150 years in B.C; more than a dozen premiers have had connections to the organization. There are now around 80 halls with over 140 lodges operating out of them in B.C. and Yukon. Freemasons have documented much of the operations in B.C. since their founding.
The Freemasons employ secret symbols, rituals and passwords (and more), which adds to outsiders' questions about the organization. Many of these activities are shrouded in centuries of secret history.
There is also no overarching body for Freemasons; instead, they operate with lodges (local units) and grand lodges (regional units). The grand lodges connect with each other (though some conspiracies claim there is one central ruling body).
With files from Brendan Kergin
Video report by Alanna Kelly