Man banished from Vancouver Island First Nation argues jail sentence is ‘double jeopardy’ in arson case

Man banished from Vancouver Island First Nation argues jail sentence is ‘double jeopardy’ in arson case
(Mark Oijen)
The fire is pictured.

A man who pleaded guilty to burning down his home on First Nation land near Campbell River is appealing his prison sentence, saying that it constitutes “double jeopardy” since he was already punished by the Nation by being banished from its reserve.

Eddy Cliffe and his mother were arrested after they burnt down Cliffe’s home on Wei Wai Kum First Nation land in June 2019.

The court heard that Cliffe and his mother set fire to the home after he was unable to pay his mortgage, which was secured by the First Nation.

The Wei Wai Kum First Nation eventually issued Cliffe an eviction notice, and after multiple attempts to have Cliffe pay the remainder of his debt, the Nation said it would be moving forward with an eviction.

At that point, Cliffe’s mother became involved, saying she was upset with how the First Nation was treating her son, and even going so far as sending the Nation an email “which amounted to a veiled threat to burn the house down,” according to B.C. Appeal Judge John Hunter.

“The day before the Nation was set to take control of the house, [Cliffe] called the chief and confirmed that the Nation was going to follow through with that plan,” reads Hunter’s decision, which was posted publicly earlier this month.

“Shortly after that call, [he] purchased gasoline.”

Guilty plea

The court heard that Cliffe called a friend leading up to the fire, and asked if he should let his mother “take the ‘heat’ for him,” while also warning the friend not to come to the house “because it would be ‘going up’ in the next 15 minutes.”

The court also heard that Cliffe and his mother called each other on the morning of the fire and discussed plans to burn down the house.

The pair removed several belongings from the home before pouring gasoline on it, and even recorded a video that shows Cliffe claiming he tried to stop his mom from setting the house ablaze.

Once the fire began, Cliffe warned his neighbour and later called the chief, saying he had tried to stop his mom from starting the fire.

Both Cliffe and his mother were later arrested and pleaded guilty to arson.

READ PREVIOUS: Man and woman charged with arson after fire on Wei Wai Kum First Nation in Campbell River

Double jeopardy

While the pair were arrested in August for the crime, the Wei Wai Kum First Nation already banished Cliffe from the reserve for six months in July for the fire.

The banishment is the crux of Cliffe’s appeal for double jeopardy, as he says he was already punished for the crime by the Nation before the province’s courts were involved.

“Mr. Cliffe argues that both the banishment and the arson charge arose from the same conduct, and accordingly once he was punished by way of banishment, he cannot be punished again through the criminal law,” reads the appeal decision.

Cliffe was seeking court-appointed legal counsel to help appeal his conviction and his sentence.

Hunter decided that Cliffe would not receive publicly-funded counsel to appeal his conviction, but he would be granted a lawyer to help appeal his sentence.

That being said, the judge noted that he has “grave doubts” about the double jeopardy defence, saying that Cliffe will have to establish that the law the Nation was using to banish him is considered criminal in nature and is intended to provide “true penal consequences.”

Adam ChanAdam Chan

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!