A convicted killer suspected of starting the fire that killed seven people in Old Montreal in March of 2023 has admitted he was at the scene of the arson but claims someone else set the blaze.
Documents from Correctional Service Canada that cite Montreal police testimony say that Denis Bégin was filmed by a surveillance camera in the area around the building that caught fire — before and after the blaze.
Last October, Radio-Canada reported that Bégin was considered a suspect in the fire. However, police have never publicly identified Bégin as a suspect and no charges have been laid in the case.
“The Montreal police never, with rare exceptions, comment on ongoing investigations in detail, so as not to hinder their progress,” the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) said in a statement on Friday.
First reported by La Presse, the documents from the federal correctional service say Bégin denies setting the fire but claims to have a photo of the person responsible on a secure cloud account.
The documents are part of an application Bégin filed opposing a transfer to a maximum-security prison. He made the request after the coverage in October connecting him to the fire.
Bégin, 63, spent 51 months on the lam after he escaped from a minimum-security federal prison in February 2019. He was arrested in May after being identified during the fatal fire investigation.
Corrections officials say they were told by a Montreal police investigator that a vehicle tied to Bégin was caught on surveillance camera on March 16 near the site of the heritage building that caught fire that day. A person was seen on video driving to the building, then entering and emerging about five minutes later and driving away. The fire ignited soon after.
The documents say that when police questioned Bégin as a witness to the fire, he was using another name. Investigators said he did not resemble the man he was pretending to be and was soon identified as Denis Bégin through fingerprint analysis.
Bégin claimed he was only a witness to fire and had gone to the building to collect some tools. He said he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
According to the corrections documents, Bégin told police he saw the person who possibly set the fire, adding that he had a photo to prove it. He then allegedly told police he would release the image in exchange for immunity in the arson case.
That offer was refused.
Bégin later revised his request, offering to co-operate with police to prove his innocence and to help his chances at parole. The corrections documents don’t give more details, but they say authorities were concerned by his behaviour.
“Either this photo exists and he prefers to exploit the system rather than fulfil his duty as a citizen by revealing the identity of the man who killed seven people …. Or this photo does not exist and he’s trying to find an exit door,” the corrections document states.
Bégin is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Ricardo Gizzi on Halloween night in 1993, a crime that earned him the nickname the “Halloween Killer.”
The corrections documents also shed some light on his four years on the lam, during which he was considered one of Quebec’s most wanted criminals. Bégin told authorities that after his prison escape, he quickly obtained fake documents to start a new life under different names.
He worked for various companies before starting his own maintenance firm and started a relationship with a woman who didn’t know he was running from the law.