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)

Esquimalt arson trial hears of feud with tenant before the fire

Wei Li charged with intentionally setting fire to a duplex he owned on Oct. 3, 2017

A little over a week into the trial, Wei “George” Li — who’s been charged with intentionally setting fire to a duplex he owned in Esquimalt on Oct. 3, 2017 — took the stand in the Victoria courthouse on Wednesday morning.

A 12-person jury heard how the 49 year old purchased the home in Esquimalt for $588,000 and took possession in October of 2016, wanting to move his family to Victoria.

Li told the courts that purchasing the house was a ‘big decision, because a previous tenant used the garage to process drugs. When the house was inspected, it was noted the garage was in complete darkness which Li was told was necessary to process the drugs, along with unique wiring — which was not removed when Li took possession.

Li lived in the home from October 2016 to April of 2017 when he took a job as a computer engineer, specializing in networking, in Montreal.

Li rented the upper suite to Billy Montgomery and his partner, Tracey. The three became very good friends, said Li, taking trips to Tofino and Nanaimo together, along with bonding over a love of sushi.

Li said Montgomery claimed to have many home businesses, skilled in roofing, decking and building furniture. The jury heard that a number of Montgomery’s work supplies were stored at the home, mostly tools and materials were stored in the garage.

Montgomery convinced Li he was the right person to undertake a number of construction jobs within the residence, making electrical and structural changes to the home — including erecting a partition wall that would block the upper suite from the lower.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

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

Several weeks after Li moved to Montreal in April 2017, with the plan of moving his two children there to study French, the friendship with Montgomery began to deteriorate, especially in June and July of that year.

From the time Li moved out, to Sept. 30, 2017 he did not visit the Esquimalt home but received numerous calls from police officers and city bylaw officers. The calls centred around an inspection of the house that showed 19 defects with the electricity and officials gave Li three months to fix the problems – threatening to shut the power off to the home.

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.

RELATED: Arson charge laid against Esquimalt homeowner

Screen shots of text messages from Tracey, shown in court, stated she had moved out but that Montgomery was demanding a four month renter’s fee and the damage deposit or else he would “trash” the home. Li also testified that he received a number of threatening phone calls from Montgomery but never reported it to police because he had no evidence of the calls.

On Sept. 30, 2017 Li arrived in Victoria, planning to stay at a friends house, but went straight to the Esquimalt home, concerned about what had been going on. Li told the courts that when he arrived the back door to the home was nailed closed from the inside.

Eventually police were called and Li was able to enter the home, when he saw a hole — big enough to walk through — cut through the partition wall.

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 nearby police and fire departments.

The trial is expected to continue Thursday in Victoria.

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