Inspector Eric Rochette is the officer in charge of the Port Alberni RCMP. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Inspector Eric Rochette is the officer in charge of the Port Alberni RCMP. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Homicides, arson kept Port Alberni RCMP busy in 2021

Number of suspicious fires increased across Vancouver Island

The Port Alberni RCMP had a busier summer than usual, with a number of suspicious fires and homicides to investigate.

Port Alberni RCMP officer-in-charge Insp. Eric Rochette presented his third quarter report to Port Alberni city council and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board for the months of July to September.

This summer, the Port Alberni RCMP worked with local fire departments on “a lot of calls” for suspicious fires, said Rochette. Some of these fires were deemed to be arson, while others were breaches of the wildfire act—for example, campfires against regulations.

Between July and August, the RCMP received 20 calls for service related to suspicious fires. Out of all those calls, the RCMP laid six charges—three people were charged with arson, and three others were charged under the wildfire act.

The charges have been forwarded to Crown Counsel, said Rochette.

“We’ll see in the next year or so what’s going to happen with the arson charges,” he said.

Rochette thanked the public for coming forward as witnesses in the arson investigations, which he says allowed the RCMP to lay charges.

“These are extremely difficult investigations,” he said. “A lot of the time, there’s minimum evidence—there’s no one around.”

The number of suspicious fires is not just a Port Alberni anomaly. Rochette said Vancouver Island in general saw a 61 percent increase in calls for arson between January and September of this year.

“What we’ve seen locally has been experienced across the Island,” he said.

Port Alberni RCMP also responded to three homicides in six months this year. The first one, in March, involved the stabbing death of a 20-year-old male outside of the Port Alberni Friendship Centre on Fourth Avenue. Rochette says the investigation into this incident is completed. One person has been arrested and documentation has been forwarded to Crown Counsel.

The second homicide took place in May in a Third Avenue apartment. Rochette said this incident is still under investigation.

The final investigation, in late August, was a fatal shooting that took place in a residence on 18th Avenue. Rochette said a suspect was arrested and charges have been approved.

The three homicides in such a short amount of time have required an “enormous amount of work” for the Port Alberni RCMP, said Rochette. Although the detachment had some help from the Vancouver Island Integrated Crime Unit, about “95 percent” of the investigation work was done “at the local level.”

“We had to prioritize with the limited numbers of officers we have available to investigate such matters,” said Rochette.

Overall, said Rochette, total calls for service were “slightly down” from July to September compared to the same quarter last year. Break and enters were down by 24 percent within the city and the number of domestic violence reports was down by 20 percent compared to last summer.

Rochette explained that break and enters into businesses have seen a “slight increase” but reports of residential break and enters have gone down. Reports of shoplifting have also gone down.

Rochette said the detachment has been focusing mainly on “two individuals” when it comes to the majority of break and enters into businesses.

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