1 of 5 youths charged in Cape Dorset school fire pleads guilty to mischief

One of the youths who burned down Peter Pitseolak high school in Cape Dorset says it was an accident, caused by playing around with lighting the camping fuel they were sniffing to get high.

Says group of friends was sniffing fuel and began lighting it around the school for fun

Firefighters battle the blaze that destroyed Peter Pitseolak high school in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, in September 2015. (submitted)

One of the youths who burned down Peter Pitseolak high school in Cape Dorset says it was an accident, caused when they were playing around with lighting the camping fuel they were sniffing to get high.

The male teen, one of the five co-­accused, appeared in court in Iqaluit Tuesday and pleaded guilty to mischief over $5,000.

The school was destroyed in the September 2015 blaze, forcing 150 students and staff to share classroom time in the hamlet's elementary school. The Government of Nunavut estimates it will cost $34 million to build a new high school in the community by 2019.

The youths, 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.

According to the agreed statement of facts, after a youth dance at the community hall in Cape Dorset on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, the five friends went down to the local beach, where they found two cans of camping fuel and got high sniffing the fumes.

Playing with fire

Sometime after midnight, they were hanging out by the high school's front doors. One of them brought a lighter, and they poured some fuel on the metal staircase, and lit it. They also poured a few drops of fuel on the ground, and on small pieces of paper. They lit that, too, getting a kick out of the flames.

They were literally playing with fire, but with no ill­ intent since they were all high.

"Their state of mind was affected by their level of intoxication from the fumes," read Crown prosecutor Philippe Plourde.

Before they left, one of the youth poured the rest of the fuel on the school's "metalclad enclosure" and they lit it. At first, it seemed like the fire had gone out, but they quickly realized that this time the fire had spread inside the school's wall.

They tried to put it out, but they failed. The fire quickly became an inferno, and they got scared and ran.

After hearing the agreed statement of facts, Justice Sue Cooper turned to the defence and asked if indeed those were the facts.

"Yes, your honour. That's what happened," the youth murmured.

The remains of Peter Pitseolak High School in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. The building was destroyed just after the start of the school year. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Maximum sentence is probation

The youth is facing the maximum sentence for the charge under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, mutually agreed by both Crown and the defence, of two years of probation plus 240 hours of community service.

The probation comes with numerous conditions including a curfew, a requirement to attend school and counselling, no intoxicants and no matches or lighters unless under the supervision of a sober adult.

The sentencing hearing will resume Thursday morning.

Plourde says the other four co-­accused have all agreed to plead guilty to mischief over $5,000 when they next appear in Cape Dorset.