‘What in the world did you think was going to happen today?’ asks judge, chastising man

Jail-bound arsonist told to sort finances before being sentenced for Esquimalt arson

An arsonist who failed to put his affairs in order before being sent to jail has received a lecture from a judge.

In October, Wei Li, also known as George Li, was convicted of setting fire to his Esquimalt rental property on Uganda Avenue in 2017 and threatening the health, safety and property of his tenant Billy Montgomery.

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At his sentencing hearing on Friday in B.C. Supreme Court, Li’s defence lawyer Rolfe Horne asked Justice Robin Baird to reserve sentencing for a few days to allow Li to deal with his financial issues.

“Mr. Li has made no arrangements with respect to key details, things to do with banking, things to do with bills, telephones, all that. And it’s clear that he’s going to jail,” said Horne, who reminded the court that Li’s performance on bail has been stellar.

“It will take him three or four days to deal with his financial issues. There are things like a leased car and all kinds of things, children’s orthodontic bills and all the things that we have to deal with.”

Baird said he was ready to give his decision.

“There’s no point in delaying the inevitable,” he told Horne. “Although, I do find it surprising that he is taken so unawares by the fact that he should face a jail sentence for torching a house in a densely populated residential area.”

The reality of the situation had now become very clear to Li, Horne said.

Baird ordered Li to stand up.

“I’m amazed that you should have come here today without making any arrangements. What in the world did you think was going to happen today? Did you think you were going to get some kind of commendation or be invited to go on your way?”

Li said he thought he was going to be sent to prison in Quebec.

“I’m champing at the bit and I’d like to administer the punishment he has coming to him and get him along to serving his debt to society and getting on with his life, which I hope will be a successful and long one,” Baird said.

“Mr. Li, what you did here was extraordinarily dangerous and incredibly stupid, but I recognize that it’s one foot wrong in a half-century of blameless living. I think you’re probably going to be all right in the future, but you’ve got to deal with the business immediately of the punishment involved for your offence.”

Baird reserved his decision until Wednesday afternoon.

“This is in order, primarily, to accommodate your spouse and to make sure adequate financial arrangements are put in place so that your children can be looked after while you’re in jail. Because you are going to jail,” Baird said. “I would have read a brief judgment and sent you directly there without any hiatus.”

The judge said he did not consider Li a flight risk, but made sure his passports, both Canadian and Chinese, had been surrendered to the authorities.

Baird also amended Li’s bail, adding a condition that he not leave Vancouver Island pending a further court order.

Court heard that Li lives in Montreal with his wife. The couple are separated but live together to look after their children, ages 12 and 10.

The Crown has asked for a three-year prison sentence.

Horne is asking for two years of federal time to allow Li to serve his sentence in Quebec to be closer to his family.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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