Halloween is a time of candy, costumes and, in some P.E.I. communities, arson.
Somehow setting fires has become an Oct. 31 tradition, especially in the West Prince region.
That was the case on Oct. 31, 2018 when RCMP and firefighters in West Prince were dealing with four separate fires at abandoned or otherwise unoccupied homes.
Nathan Paul Gaudet, 21, of Palmer Road, was arrested at the scene of one of those fires and charged with arson.
That fire was at an unoccupied Nail Pond home in the early morning hours of Nov. 1. The same house had suffered a suspicious fire just two days prior, on Oct. 30.
Gaudet was charged in relation to the latter incident and he pleaded not guilty, electing to be tried by a Supreme Court judge alone.
His trial finally got underway Wednesday morning in Summerside.
Chief Justice Tracey Clements is hearing the case. Chris White is the Crown representative and Derek Bondt is the defence counsel.
The trial is expected to last at least three days.
Wednesday’s proceedings consisted mostly of testimony from RCMP officers who were either at the scenes of one of the two fires at the Nail Pond property or who dealt with Gaudet at the RCMP station following his arrest.
Const. Jean-Philippe Côté was the lead investigator and was the first to testify.
He reported being at the scene of one fire that night before being called to the blaze in Nail Pond.
“(Halloween) is a very busy time for us in West Prince. There’s a lot of property structures, mostly abandoned, that get burned down by people from around the area. Every year it’s a phenomenon that happens,” said Côté.
He added that this particular fire was reported by two local firefighters who were going home after putting out an earlier blaze.
The firefighters approached a car parked nearby the burning home and found an empty gas can inside, which they took out of the vehicle. Gaudet reportedly came out of nearby woods shortly thereafter and the firefighters reported his presence to RCMP.
When Côté arrived on the scene he placed Gaudet under arrest.
Items found near the car included a bong, a cannabis grinder and two license plates, one of which was folded in two.
All four RCMP officers who testified Wednesday reported a strong odour of gasoline coming from Gaudet’s clothes, which were seized as evidence.
During his questioning of the officers, Bondt wanted to know if any of his client’s clothes or other items had been forensically tested for the presence of gasoline. The officers all replied that no testing took place.
The final witness of the day was Gaudet’s ex-girlfriend whom he allegedly called after being arrested.
She testified that Gaudet told her he’d “been caught lighting a fire.”
On cross-examination by Bondt as to whether she might have been confused during that call as she had been awoken by it after working a night shift, she stressed that she clearly remembered Gaudet’s wording and was clear-headed by that point.
The trial resumes Thursday morning at 9 a.m. in Summerside.