Firewatcher sentenced

·3 min read

A Prince County man accused of arson in a 2018 Halloween fire was sentenced to six months in jail this week.

Nathan Paul Gaudet, 22, heard the sentence from Chief Justice Tracey Clements in Summerside Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Gaudet was charged with arson after he was found near the scene of a fire at an unoccupied house on Ascension Road in the early morning hours of Nov. 1, 2018. Gaudet pleaded not guilty and was tried by Supreme Court judge alone.

In the three-day trial in November 2019, Gaudet testified he happened upon the fire and simply planned to light a bong and watch. But, when Tignish firefighters drove by and noticed the fire and his car, he fled to the woods.

Gaudet soon emerged and told them, “you got me”. At the trial, he claimed he meant they’d caught him with beer and marijuana in the car.

Clements delivered a guilty verdict in late January. At the time, she said she considered the totality of the evidence carefully, but ultimately the circumstantial and direct evidence stacked against Gaudet. There were several instances where Gaudet gave a different story at trial compared to his initial police statement.

“I do have significant concerns about the accused’s credibility,” said Clements, in her 2020 decision.

On Wednesday, Clements referred to a June 2020 report from Criminal Intelligence Service P.E.I. that recorded 154 serious arson cases between 2015 and 2020. Outside the urban areas of Charlottetown and Summerside, arson was most prevalent in western Prince County.

To send a message to the community, Gaudet’s sentence included general deterrence and some denunciation, said Clements.

“The principle of denunciation encompasses society’s condemnation of the offender’s conduct in a symbolic, collective statement that the conduct has violated society’s basic code of values,” said Clements, citing a previous decision.

She continued in her own words, “There is no question arson is a serious offence and the case law makes clear that denunciation and deterrence are of primary importance. There are significant risks associated with arson, including not only the safety but also the very lives of those first responders called upon to deal with fires,” said Clements.

“However, the mitigating factors of the accused’s relatively young age and the prospect of rehabilitation must not be forgotten.”

Clements said a sentence between six to 12 months was most appropriate.

“It seems to me that Mr. Gaudet may very well be at somewhat of a crossroads in his life, in terms of his maturity and his life’s path,” said Clements. “While a 12-month sentence would arguably be a sound sentence, I am going to err more on the side of rehabilitation, particularly given Mr. Gaudet’s relatively young age.”

After Gaudet’s six months in jail, he will spend 24 months of probation.

Gaudet will also be under a weapons prohibition, and he must supply DNA for the national registry.

Gaudet must also write a letter of apology to the owners of the house.

“Mr. Gaudet should be aware that the case law certainly would support a period of imprisonment for longer than six months. My hope for Mr. Gaudet, and for his community, is that he does not dismiss or squander this court’s emphasis on rehabilitation and that this is his last interaction with the criminal justice system,” said Clements.

Alison Jenkins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Journal-Pioneer