Man accused of killing his son and mother-in-law in Richmond arson appears in court

A trial began in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Monday for Surjit Dosanjh, a man accused of setting a fire that killed his mother-in-law and his 13-year old son. Sixty-six-year-old Elaine Leznoff and Kalvin Dosanjh-Leznoff died in the fire in Richmond in April 2015.

Surjit Singh Dosanjh has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder

A scene from the April 2015 fire that broke out in a Richmond duplex house. Firefighters arrived to find two people inside who later died. (Shane MacKichan/CBC)

Opening statements began in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Monday in the trial of Surjit Dosanjh, a man accused of setting fire to a home and killing his mother-in-law and his teenage son.

In the early morning hours of April 13, 2015, neighbours called 911 after flames tore through a duplex house on Cornerbrook Crescent in Richmond. Sixty-six-year-old Elaine Leznoff and 13-year-old Kalvin Dosanjh-Leznoff were found inside. Crews tried to resuscitate them, but both died.

Dosanjh was arrested and charged with two counts of second-degree murder. On Monday he appeared in court, dressed in red sweats and wearing black eyeglasses and a black turban. He stood up in court and entered a plea of not guilty to both counts.

Crown's version of events

In her opening arguments, Crown attorney  Andrea Spence said the house that went up in flames was once the family home where Dosanjh lived with his three children, his wife Liane and his mother-in-law. She said that testimony will show that the month before the fire, his wife ended the relationship and asked him to move out of the house.

Spence said the Crown intends to prove that Dosanjh reacted in a hostile way, showing signs of jealousy and anger by repeatedly calling his wife and threatening to harm her or any new boyfriends. She said evidence will be presented that more than a week before the fire, Dosanjh threw a 7 Up bottle full of gasoline through the window of Elaine Leznoff's vehicle. The night before the fire, Dosanjh's wife went to police and took their then-two-year-old son to a safe house.

A courtroom sketch of Surjit Dosanjh from 2015. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of his 13-year-old son and his mother-in-law (Felicity Don)

On the night in question, the Crown argues that Dosanjh went to the home to pick up clothing and photographs with his then-15-year-old son Gavin. Both were seen leaving the home, according to the crown, but Dosanjh was seen re-entering, and the fire broke out shortly after.

On Monday, a neighbour who lived in the same duplex, Victor Vedernikov, testified that he often interacted with Dosanjh. Speaking through a Russian interpreter, he said he noticed a change in dynamics after Dosanjh's mother-in-law moved in, adding that he noticed police cars started appearing at the home after that.

Dosanjh's lawyers will present their opening statements later in the trial. Firefighters who attended the scene, Dosanjh's wife and his oldest son are all expected to testify for the Crown.