Man who's sorry for burning B.C. Masonic buildings gets 2.5 years with time served

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VANCOUVER — A man who caused more than $2.5 million in damage by setting fire to three Masonic buildings in Metro Vancouver has been given a 40-month prison sentence.

Minus time served, Benjamin Kohlman's sentence amounts to about 2 1/2 years in prison.

Kohlman, 43, pleaded guilty to arson charges after setting the fires on March 30, all within an hour of each other, two in North Vancouver and one in Vancouver.

Provincial court Judge Laura Bakan said Monday that Kohlman appeared sorry for his actions and she offered her hope that he would be able to deal with his addiction issues while in prison.

She said she accepted Kohlman's apology and that he was remorseful.

"It shows he has at least some insight into the great harm he caused," the judge said.

Bakan noted there had been concern relayed in the Crown's written submission that Kohlman would reoffend if he didn't address his addiction issues.

Damage from the fires ranged from minor to the building in Vancouver to the complete loss of the Masonic hall in North Vancouver.

Both Crown counsel and Kohlman's defence lawyer told the court he targeted Masonic buildings in an attempt to stop the "Illuminati using mind control" and voices directed him to start the fires.

Dow had asked for a prison sentence up to five years, while the defence called for a two- to three-year sentence.

Kohlman's lawyer, Jessica Dawkins, told the court her client set the fires early in the morning to ensure no one would be harmed.

"This was about bringing attention, not harming anyone," Dawkins said.

Dow agreed, adding the fires were not motivated by revenge or hate as many arson cases are.

"It should be clear this is a mental health situation brought on by Mr. Kohlman's substance misuse," he told the court.

The judge said during her reasons for sentence that she saw no financial or revenge motives to Kohlman's actions.

Kohlman appeared at the sentencing hearing via video link and declined to address the court, asking his lawyer to speak for him, although he thanked thejudge after being sentenced.

Shortly after the third fire was started, Kohlman was spotted leaving the Masonic hall by an off-duty police officer who attempted to arrest him.

The court heard Kohlman was "unfazed" by the police officer, who drew his gun on him, and escaped before being tracked down in nearby Burnaby.

He was originally charged with arson, three counts of break and enter and one count each of assaulting a police officer and failure to stop for an officer.

The remaining charges were stayed during his sentencing.

Dawkins told the sentencing hearing her client knows what he did was wrong.

"He’s told me point blank he deserves to be punished," she said.

She added Kohlman wanted to apologize for the damage he caused and for hurting community members through his actions.

Kohlman was born and raised in Nelson, B.C., but his life changed at about five or six years old after his Indigenous father killed his mother then died by suicide, leaving the child in the care of his aunt and uncle, Dawkins told the court.

Dawkins said Kohlman started drinking and smoking marijuana at the age of 13 before moving to Vancouver at 18 and getting into harder drugs.

He has a Grade 11 education, has worked a range of jobs since moving to Vancouver and had been working for 20 years as a drywall installer and painter at the time of his arrest with no criminal record, Dawkins said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2021.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press

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