The man convicted of torching his rental property in Esquimalt wore a fully packed backpack and wheeled a small pink suitcase into the courtroom on Friday afternoon to find out how long he would be spending in jail.
Wei ‘George’ Li was sentenced to two years in a federal penitentiary for one count of arson in B.C. Supreme Court.
Justice Robin Baird was ready to give his reasons for judgment last Friday but agreed to adjourn until this week in order to give Li time to plan with his family. Li lives in Quebec with his estranged wife, who is dealing with a thyroid cancer diagnosis. They co-parent their two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum.
When asked if Li had anything final to say to the courts prior to hearing his sentence, he told the judge that he had prepared a two-page statement but was advised to seek counsel from his defence lawyer, Rolfe Horne, before reading it out loud.
After about a 10-minute break, Li stood up to deliver his edited statement, starting out by expressing his confusion with the guilty verdict and then thanking the police, who Li said did a “wonderful job.”
“I have to say I was really impressed by the professionalism, especially [by the fact] they even unlocked the iPhone,” said Li.
During the trial, in an agreed statement of facts, it came to light that in the days leading up to the fire, Li had searched how to transport gasoline in plastic containers and the distance and commute time from the property to the fire department.
In addition to the searches, an unexplained jerrycan with gas in it was found in the basement, which pointed to Li’s guilt, stated the judge, along with the fact that the firefighter who was primarily responsible for extinguishing the fire “reeked of gasoline.”
Li was arrested about 30 minutes after he set the fire. He was arrested at the Victoria International Airport after he sought medical attention for burns on his hands, face and neck.
The courts heard how Li and his tenant Billy Montgomery had a strained relationship that became “extremely volatile” leading up to the day of the fire, on Oct. 3, 2017.
Justice Baird said he believed Li’s motive for setting fire to Montgomery’s personal items in the garage was to intimidate Montgomery or force him off the property “or both.” Baird called the crime “premediated” and said the jury clearly rejected the defence that the fire had started from an electric spark when the lights were turned on.
“What the accused did here was extremely dangerous, not to mention unbelievably stupid,” said Baird.
Baird took into account the fact that prior to this incident, Li had no criminal record and said he had 50 years of previous good character.
In addition to thanking police, Li thanked his lawyer — who called a “true gentleman” and said he didn’t “need a win to know that” — along with the taxpayers.
One person clapped as Li was lead out of the courtroom in handcuffs, leaving his backpack and suitcase behind to be collected by the sheriffs.