In this still image taken from a YouTube video posted earlier this year, convicted arsonist Philip Andrew Unrau points to a poster urging viewers to “start burning,” or “God will.” The video was part of the evidence used to deny Unrau bail while he faces charges of violating his probation by starting a fire.
A convicted arsonist — and crusader for controlled burning — is back in custody on an allegation that he violated his probation order by setting a fire.
Judge Shauna Hewitt-Michta cited public safety as she denied bail for Philip Andrew Unrau this week.
She pointed to a YouTube video which was played for the court. In it, Unrau encourages viewers to set fires and to carry an axe to keep the "anti- fire people away."
"I’m extremely concerned with what I’ve seen in the YouTube video," Hewitt-Michta said.
Unrau’s legal trouble with fires stretches back nearly a decade. He was fined $240 under the Wildfires Act in November 2003, and fined $240 again under the same act in February 2004.
In October 2009, he was sentenced to six months in jail on two counts of arson and two counts under the Wildfires Act for fires he set in Margaret in April 2008.
Those charges resulted from two grass fires set by Unrau which crept within metres of the community’s wood-framed skating rink. He was also convicted of uttering threats and breach of undertaking for threatening to burn down the Boissevain school.
Following jail, Unrau was placed on a three-year probation order which he’s now accused of breaching by setting a fire.
The following allegations have not been proven in court.
Crown attorney Rich Lonstrup said it’s alleged that on March 23 a witness called police after spotting a man he knew near a campfire which was set on an abandoned bridge in the RM of Riverside near Margaret. The man was under a probation order which specifically forbid him from setting fires.
Police arrested the man at his home and were prepared to release him while pending on his charge but he refused to sign the required paperwork.
Lonstrup also played a YouTube video for the court which he said was posted online by Unrau. Lonstrup said the video suggests Unrau’s commitment to setting fires has reached "religious fervour."
In the video, Unrau tells viewers: "To all good Canadians, start burning this spring. See controlled burning sites. Start burning, or God will ... as Slave Lake got some judgment."
In May 2011, a wildfire swept into Slave Lake, Alta., and forced the evacuation of 7,000 residents and burned 400 structures, mostly homes.
Unrau’s video is dated January 2012 and may have been uploaded the following month.
As it continues, Unrau lists the equipment needed to start a fire — a shovel, a rake and a torch or a lighter.
He then picks up an axe: "... and you need an axe to keep the anti fire people away. They can go have a swim in a cold lake and lighten up."
Lonstrup said Unrau made the video under the name, "rainofphillfire".
"Mr. Unrau has an obsession, and it is an extraordinarily dangerous obsession," Lonstrup said, noting that in the past Unrau has been ordered by the court to take mental health counselling.
Defence lawyer Ryan Fawcett said any evidence regarding the March 23 fire on the bridge is circumstantial.
Unrau, 57, sees controlled burning as a conservationist movement intended to protect the environment, said Fawcett, who described the YouTube video as a lighthearted commentary on the issue.
On his part, Unrau has told court that he is being framed by Hutterites and Freemasons.
With bail denied, Unrau remains in custody as he awaits his trial to be held in Boissevain on May 23.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 14, 2012