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Son testifies at trial of Edmonton soldier accused of trying to kill her 3 children in fire

An Edmonton soldier is on trial for three counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson. (Sam Brooks/CBC - image credit)
An Edmonton soldier is on trial for three counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson. (Sam Brooks/CBC - image credit)

The eldest son of a woman accused of attempting to murder him and his two siblings says his mother told him to go back to bed when he woke to a smoke-filled house.

The accused, who is a serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces, cannot be identified because of a publication ban in place to protect the identities of her two sons and one daughter.

The 45-year-old soldier faces three counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson, and is in the midst of a trial in Edmonton's Court of King's Bench.

Crown prosecutors have alleged the woman took the children on a lavish, fun-filled weekend at West Edmonton Mall, before taking them home, waiting until they were asleep and starting a fire in the basement.

Her eldest son, who is 17 now but was 10 at the time of the fire, testified Wednesday that when the family got back to their home on the CFB Edmonton base, his mother gave all three children NyQuil.

He said they played video games and watched movies in their mother's bedroom, and that his mother made a comment about their father.

"She tells us that she loves us and that we'll never have to see him again and we go to bed," he said.

The teen says he woke later, having a hard time breathing. He said his mom told him it was smoke from wildfires.

Eventually, the boy said he went to the main floor and saw thick smoke and a red glow at the bottom of the basement stairs. He said he heard his mother tell him to go back upstairs.

He did, but he and his brother went into the brother's bedroom, got out the window and climbed onto the roof.

The trial has previously heard all four family members were rescued by neighbours who came to help.

Cross-examination

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Curtis Steeves challenged the teen on changes to his account of what happened over the years.

The lawyer also put it to the teen that he'd originally believed his dad started the fire, not his mom.

"My mom would always tell us he was a bad person," the boy said, adding that by 2019 he believed his mother had tried to kill him.

Steeves also put it to the teen that he may have lied to investigators because he was worried about getting in trouble himself for starting the fire.

During direct questioning by the prosecutor, the teen said he did not start the fire.

Ex-husband testifies

The soldier's ex-husband was also called as a witness Wednesday, and he described the years after he and his wife's marriage broke down in 2011 as "very difficult."

Testifying Wednesday, the father said he found out about the fire while deployed in Prince Albert, Sask. where the military was helping fight wildfires.

He said he started listening to a voicemail from military police about a fire at his ex's house, but deleted it before it finished.

During cross-examination, the father said he stopped listening because he thought the children were away at camp and that it didn't matter to him if something happened to his ex.

"And that includes if she died in the fire?" Steeves asked.

"I guess so, sir," the father replied, adding he found out the kids were there from a neighbour.

Asked about why he persistently contacted military police about their investigation in the fire, the father said he'd read a report by an insurance company that found the house fire had been deliberately set.

"I'm a father. I was told that she tried to kill my kids. I was trying to protect them," he said.

The parents' younger son also testified Wednesday, and their daughter is expected to be called as a witness Thursday.