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International Association of Arson Investigators (IA.A.I.)
&
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (A.T.F.)

 

Glenn Gibson
CIP, CLA, FCIAA, CFE, CFEI
Chief Executive Officer
Crawford Adjusters Canada Inc.
gisgsong@adjusters.com

"A Valuable Partnership"

Introduction

In 1984, as a property loss adjuster with 11 years experience, I had an opportunity to attend the I.A.A.I. Annual Seminar hosted in Vancouver, British Columbia. I knew very little about the I.A.A.I. and there were questions in my mind as to how the training offered would compliment my skills as a loss adjuster. This particular training course, however, had a profound impact on my career. It not only opened my mind to the path of continuous learning but it allowed me to develop a network of professional friends who have assisted me at every step of my career. Some of my counterparts in the adjusting profession might believe that the I.A.A.I. is an organization that services "fire investigators." The reality is…this is not the case.

 

In this article, I would like to reinforce the value of the I.A.A.I. to the insurance community. I will also demonstrate the current state of affairs in Canada with respect to the crime of "arson". Finally, I will provide you with information on what I consider one of the best training schools in the world that should be fully embraced by the fire investigation community.

"Arson"- Civil and Criminal Law in Canada

In Canada, criminal law is federal jurisdiction and is codified in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is one federal code that applies to all Provinces and Territories. This differs from the U.S. where each state has jurisdiction for its criminal laws.

In 1982, the Canadian Parliament passed the Constitution Act. Within this Act is the Canadian "Charter of Rights and Freedoms." The genesis and evolvement of this legislation mirrors many of the fundamentals provided in the U.S. "Bill of Rights".

Unlike most U.S. states, we do not have 'Arson Immunity Laws' in Canada. The I.A.A.I. (Ontario Chapter) has tried to pursue these with Federal and Provincial legislators. We have also tried to encourage several insurance industry organizations to join the cause but repeated efforts have not produced any meaningful results. The fight is not over. There is plenty of frustration from the front line people who look south of the border and have difficulty understanding why the "Immunity Laws" make sense in the U.S. but not in Canada.

The 'civil law' is controlled generally by legislation under the jurisdiction of the individual Provinces. The "Insurance Act" of each Province, and "Insurance Contract", are the fundamental authorities through which insurers operate to settle claims of policyholders.

"Statutory Conditions" apply to auto and property insurance policies and are found in each Provincial Insurance Act. Most Canadian "Statutory Conditions" mirror U.S. policies. The one major exception is in the property policy. It does not contain a provision for a mandatory 'Examination Under Oath' (EUO).

The 'EUO' is used very effectively in the US.

A number of Canadian insurers recently added 'EUO'into their policies as a "Special Condition". This effort has, however, been negated as evidenced by a recent civil court decision (Foster vs. Chubb; Ont. Court (Gen. Div.) Jan. 14,1999.). The Court said the policyholder was not compelled to submit to a 'EUO' as this condition was not legislated in the Provincial Insurance Act or included in the "Statutory Conditions" of the insurance contract. An insurer adding this provision to the contract on an arbitrary basis did not compel the insured's cooperation as it might in U.S. jurisdictions.

Canada begins to follow the U.S.

In January of 1996, the Canadian insurance community was rocked by their first major "bad faith" award (Whiten vs. Pilot, J. Matlow; Jan. 25, 1996). A jury awarded $1.0 million for "punitive damages". Until this decision, Canadian courts had rarely had any punitive damages awarded against an insurer beyond $10,000. Ringing the bell for $1.0 million had a significant impact in Canada. The impact was diluted somewhat when, in early 1999, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the original trial judges "reasons", but reduced the punitive damage award to $100,000.

While insurers were awaiting what the Ontario Court of Appeal was going to do on this ground-breaking case, there were a string of other fire litigation, civil jury trials, where punitive damages were awarded in a range from $200,000-$750,000. The Supreme Court of Canada (the buck stops here) has agreed to hear "appeals" on these cases. We will know sometime later this year whether or not Canada will follow U.S.-style damage awards on fire litigation cases.

Now... while the civil court system was breaking new ground there was a major shift in our criminal courts. In Regina vs. Ouida; Ontario Court-General Division, the Crown Attorney withdrew criminal charges against two parties accused of "arson" after evidence was excluded. The defense lawyers successfully argued the "rights" of the accused persons had been breached by the Fire Marshal who failed to obtain a search warrant for the scene investigation. Any evidence seized was inadmissible. This case determined, once and for all, the issues of Fire Marshals acting under their Provincial (Administrative) authorities and Criminal Authorities. This has been familiar ground for U.S. authorities for many years but this case broke new ground in Canada. It also served to redefine working relationships that existed between public authorities and insurance companies.

As the "relationships" began to change in the mid-1990's, NFPA 921 arrived. This had a profound impact on all fire investigators in Canada. Within a short time-frame we also started to break ground on issues relating to continuity of evidence; spoliation; qualifications of fire experts; use of counter-experts; laboratory challenges; consent issues; disclosure of evidence; privilege issues; etc. The 'minefield' we work in has many parallels to what has evolved in the U.S. in the past 20 years. Our challenge is that all of this has hit our country in a very short period. This has required an accelerated learning curve for the professionals in Canada who work in the fire investigation field.

World-Class Teaching

To fast track our learning curve many Canadians have "discovered" the U.S.-based training school that is run in partnership between the International Association of Arson Investigators and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. An advertisement / registration form for this school is can be obtained from the author. This school is world class in content and instructional techniques. This does not just happen…there is a story behind it.

In the early 1980's, several U.S. States were bringing forward 'Arson Immunity Laws'. Legislators recognized that most arson cases were built on circumstantial evidence. They knew that this cowardly crime was quite often orchestrated under cloak of darkness through a carefully crafted scheme. To fight the crime legislators learned quickly that it was important for public authorities to have access to information in the files of insurance companies…but…what was the point obtaining information from insurers that did not embrace the best of investigative techniques that were available?

"Partnerships" is a buzzword of the late 1990's. In the early 1980's, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (A.T.F.) showed great vision in forming a partnership with the International Association of Arson Investigators (I.A.A.I.) to develop a training course that would benefit law enforcement and the insurance community.

To do this, a 'writing team' was formed to write curriculum. The project was completed in early 1980. The original team included George Bradley, Chris Nelson, Bob Stellingworth, Gus Gary, Larry Williams, Sonny Wilson, Neil Olderman, and Joe Toscano, to name a few. A second writing team involving many of this original cast did a further updating of the course with additional input from Ken Goodnight, Dave Campbell and Joe O'Doud. Many of these names are no doubt very familiar to the readers given their continued commitment to the path of education not only in the I.A.A.I. but also for many educational bodies.

The highlight of this new program was a "practical exercise." This was known as the "Bay Bowling Lanes" case. It was written using adult-based interactive learning techniques. Actors and role players were part of the dynamics of this teaching style which forced small 'teams' of students to quickly case manage massive amounts of investigative material in a short time frame.

The weeklong class is held both on and off-campus at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. F.L.E.T.C. has 1,500 acres of land at this site and is the home to 70 federal law enforcement-training agencies. This IAAI-ATF 'arson for profit' class is the only non-law enforcement personnel class allowed on the F.L.E.T.C. training facility. While the class includes insurance personnel, it is common to find strong representation from the law enforcement and fire communities.

To remain current, the curriculum has been re-written several times in the past 10 years to include the quickly changing environment that we work in.

There is strong continuity in the pool of instructors who currently teach at the school.
This includes:

• Joe Toscano Vice President- American ReInsurance.
• Dave Campbell North Carolina Bureau of Investigation
• Rick Weber ATF Philadelphia
• Buddy Morgan ATF (retired)
• Alan Graham ATF Boston
• Luis Velaszko ATF National Academy
• Chris Porreca ATF Miami
• Sandy Burnette Butler, Burnette,Pappas Law Firm
• Ed Armstrong - ATF lawyer (retired)
• Jack Yates Yates & Associates
• Glenn Gibson Crawford Adjusters Canada Inc.
• Jim Forbes PriceWaterhouseCoopers Accountants
• Ken Goodnight International Resources Global
• Gus Gary International Resources Global (ex-ATF)

In Canada, this program has been very important to accelerating our learning curve on fire investigative techniques. Canadians not only are regular students at F.L.E.T.C. but the program has been "imported" in the past few years with over 250 Canadians graduating from the course in seminars in Toronto, Ontario and Banff, Alberta. Very clearly, from a Canadian perspective, we have received great value from this teaching program.

Although the highlight of the week is the intensive practical exercise, there is hands-on teaching of 'origin and cause' investigation utilizing the 'flashover cells' at the F.L.E.T.C. base. There are also teaching blocks on interviewing techniques; financial investigations, case management, and legal. All instruction leads into the practical exercise that drives home the classroom instruction to complete the adult learning cycle. The practical exercise utilizes actors and actresses to ensure 'real-life' drama to the evolution of the case.

In the fall of 1999, the F.L.E.T.C. class was "sold out" with 51 students. The critiques from this class included comments such as:

• "Of all the training courses I have attended in the past 18 years, this is by far the best. I truly learned new techniques that will (and would have) make a difference. Thanks"

 

• "I was very impressed with the seminar. The practical exercise was very life-like and stressed the importance of working in a team. I would recommend this seminar to everyone in the insurance industry."

 

• "All our objectives were realized- Great seminar! The week flew by... thanks".

Summary

There is no question that the "bar has been raised" in terms of the professionalism and knowledge required of anyone associated with fire investigations. The solution to the anxiety associated with this push is rooted in the path of continuous learning. In Canada, I have illustrated the impact of the fast pace of change we are experiencing in our civil and criminal courts affecting fire investigators. The curiosity might be how we, north of your borders, have embraced the IAAI-ATF training school as a key component of our learning path.

Both the IAAI and ATF are to be commended for the dedication over the long period that they have continued to run this program for the benefit of the fire investigation community. The instructors in the program have also done a superb job of keeping the course content both current and relevant. This has not been without personal sacrifices on their part. Good stuff!

The last comment I have is to my fellow insurance professionals. Sixteen years ago, I had the opportunity to attend an IAAI program. I have taken far more than I have given to this superb organization. It is unbelievable to see the number of people who volunteer their time and effort to the IAAI.

My concluding wish is that more property loss adjusters would realize the educational and networking value of being a member of the IAAI

This article appears courtesy of Munich Re America, Inc. formerly American Re-Insurance Company.

 

 

 
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