More arson charges in Nunavut community that lost high school to fire

A Nunavut community still reeling from the effect of a fire that burned down the town’s only high school last September is now dealing with two other incidents of arson at its only elementary school.

‘This won’t be tolerated and we’re going to be proceeding with charges,’ say RCMP

Firefighters battle a blaze that destroyed Cape Dorset's high school last September. Now four youth have been charged in relation to two incidents of arson at the elementary school. (submitted)

A Nunavut community still reeling from the "drastic and devastating" effects of a fire that burned down the town's only high school last September is now dealing with two other incidents of arson at its only elementary school.

Four youth have been charged with arson in Cape Dorset in two separate incidents at Sam Pudlat Elementary School last week.

Since last fall's fire at Peter Pitseolak high school, 150 students and staff have been sharing classroom time in the elementary school. The Government of Nunavut estimates it will cost $34 million to build a new high school in the community by 2019.

"This community has already gone through a very drastic and devastating impact," said RCMP Cst. Laurence Dillon.

In light of the previous case of arson, she said, all fire related investigations are being treated as high priority by the RCMP. 

Peter Pitseolak High school engulfed in flames last September. (submitted)

2 incidents in 2 days

The first incident of arson last week was on Sept. 13. The RCMP were notified by the school the day after.

"There had been a report in relation to the smell of burning within the school," said Dillon. 

A subsequent investigation found no property damage, but because of the severity of the offence, two youth were charged with arson, disregard for human life and damage to property. 

Dillon declined to offer further details. 

The second incident occurred only two days later, involving different youth. 

Despite minimal property damage, those two youth were also charged with arson, disregard for human life and damage to property.

RCMP confirmed the youth involved in the second incident have since been released. The youth involved in the first incident remain in custody — one is due in court on September 23, while the other is due in court September 30.

RCMP also confirmed the four youth involved in both incidents range in age from 13 to 17.

The remains of Peter Pitseolak High School in Cape Dorset. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

'This won't be tolerated'

The RCMP has been working with the community and school officials on a number of plans to address arson in Cape Dorset, Dillon said. 

They want students to understand the legal ramifications of their actions as well as the serious risks involved in playing with fire.

"This won't be tolerated and we're going to be proceeding with charges," said Dillon.

"Fire in a building, school, some place that is occupied is considered arson and therefore it's a higher charge and it's a very serious incident."

An accident while sniffing camping fuel

The five youth charged in relation to last September's school fire, who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, were originally charged with arson causing damage to property and arson with disregard for human life.

In court, one of the youth said the fire was an accident, caused when they were playing around by lighting the camping fuel they were sniffing to get high. That youth has pleaded guilty to mischief.

Court proceedings in that case are expected to resume in November.  

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.