Firefighters and investigators found a jerrycan that appeared to be new, open, and half full, along with two boxes of kindling — one where the fire had been concentrated in the garage. (Facebook/Debbie Beech)

Guilty verdict for man accused of setting fire to his Esquimalt rental property

Wei Li was arrested at airport with burns to face and hands

The man accused of intentionally setting fire to his rental property in Esquimalt in October 2017, has been found guilty.

A 12-person jury delivered their verdict on Friday evening after several hours of deliberation, convicting Wei “George” Li of one count of arson in the Supreme Court of B.C.

Throughout the two week trial, the courts heard how a friendship between Li and his upstairs tenant, Billy Montgomery, turned sour after Li moved to Montreal in April 2017.

Numerous calls from city bylaw officers and police were made to Li, centring around an inspection of the home that showed many defects with electricity and plumbing. Officials gave Li three months to fix the problems — threatening to shut off power to the home.

RELATED: Esquimalt homeowner charged with arson searched how to transport gasoline days before fire

During these calls, a police officer told Li the house may not be covered by insurance if there was a fire because issues surrounding the condition of the home had been raised already. Li told the courts that because of an investment certification he received in Toronto, he had “rich” knowledge about insurance.

Li decided to evict Montgomery and another tenant living downstairs in order to have the defects fixed. The downstairs tenant left without issue but Li testified Montgomery refused. Crown asserted Li did not make efforts to repair the home.

On Sept. 30, 2017, Li arrived back in Victoria for the first time since moving to another province. From Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, the day of the fire, both Montgomery and Li had a couple of serious conflicts, some becoming physical.

RELATED: Esquimalt arson trial hears of feud with tenant before the fire

Montgomery and two friends, who had spent the night at his residence, left the suite that morning, only to return later to find the garage engulfed in flames.

About 35 minutes later, Li arrived at the Victoria International Airport and was attempting to board a flight. Li was in need of first aid treatment, as he was suffering from burns to the left side of his face and his ears. Li was arrested at the airport and transported to hospital for treatment.

Firefighters and investigators found a jerrycan that appeared to be new, open, and half full, along with boxes of kindling in the debris of the fire.

Detective Jason Eagle, the primary investigator on the case, was first on the witness stand, going through about 30 photos taken during the search of the suite, showing boxes of kindling in the garage, a jerrycan and a key to the suite that was found on Li while he was at the airport.

On the first day of trial, the jury heard the agreed statement of facts that included a lengthy list of web searches from Li’s phone made the day before the fire detailing how to transport gasoline in plastic containers and locations of nearby police and fire departments.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

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