Fact Check: Royal Canadian Mounted Police Investigators Did NOT Find Dozens Of Wildfires Were Arson -- Mounties Do NOT Determine What Causes A Fire

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: Royal Canadian Mounted Police Investigators Did NOT Find Dozens Of Wildfires Were Arson -- Mounties Do NOT Determine What Causes A Fire Doesn't Add Up

Were dozens of wildfires in Canada as of June 8, 2023, determined by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigators to be arson? No, that's not true: The RCMP told Lead Stories that its police don't determine what causes a fire, saying that's the responsibility of each individual province or territory.

The claim appeared in a post and video on Facebook (archived here) published on July 16, 2023. The video comes from a June 8, 2023, episode of the InfoWars show "The American Journal" hosted by Harrison Smith. The caption for the post says:

DOZENS Of Wildfires In Canada Determined To Be Arson By RCMP Investigators

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Canada fires Facebook.png

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Jul 18 17:30:49 2023 UTC)

Even though the caption for the post reads, "DOZENS Of Wildfires In Canada Determined To Be Arson By RCMP Investigators," the news articles referenced in the video don't support those numbers and in several cases are about fires in years other than 2023. Smith begins detailing his arson case at the 15:50 mark in the video but never arrives at a total of "dozens" of arson fires for the year through June 8, 2023.

Canada burning

With Canada's wildfire season a little more than half over, the nation is already on a record-setting pace. As of July 18, 2023, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre said nearly 27 million acres (10.9 million hectares) had burned, an area roughly the size of Virginia or Tennessee. It's the highest total since accurate recordkeeping began in 1986.

Michael Norton, a director general with Canada's Northern Forestry Centre, spelled it out during a technical briefing on July 6, 2023:

It's no understatement to say that the 2023 fire season is and will continue to be record-breaking in a number of ways. ... The total area burned now exceeds any year on record since we started measuring and keeping accurate records.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

While the post on Facebook makes the claim that RCMP investigators determined that dozens of wildfires in Canada were arson, the law enforcement agency never said that. In a July 18, 2023, email to Lead Stories, RCMP Media Relations Officer Marie-Eve Breton said that's not within their purview:

Police don't make determinations on what causes a fire, each province is individually responsible for the investigation of any reported arsons.

Should the provincial or territorial body responsible make a determination that the fire was arson or criminal in nature, they refer it to the police of jurisdiction for a criminal investigation.

Society for the Protection of Forests Against Fire

Stéphane Caron of the Society for the Protection of Forests Against Fire told Lead Stories in a July 18, 2023, email that this year's wildfires have largely been caused by rising temperatures, dry conditions and lightning strikes. He continued:

On average (ten years), 4% of forest fires in Quebec are caused by [people]. There is generally no criminal intent involved. They are usually caused by careless kids or people with mental health problems. To date, 2% of forest fires in 2023 have been caused by [people].

It's very rare for a police investigation to be required for a forest fire in Quebec, because it's very rare for criminal intent to be the cause of a fire.

In a separate email, Caron added:

I don't have statistics on the number of forest fires that have led to criminal charges. But it's very rare.

Other Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to wildfires in Canada can be found here.

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  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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