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Homeless man who torched Burnaby sushi restaurant twice 'wanted to teach somebody a lesson'

Steven Sean Sorenson, 49, was 'homeless, frustrated, overwhelmed' when he set fire to Sushi Oyama twice and popular Korean restaurant Jang Mo Jib once in 2020, according to information presented in court. In total, the three fires caused $571,234 in losses and damages.
Emergency crews respond to a fire at the Jang Mo Jib Restaurant on Kingsway on April 11, 2020.

A homeless man who set fire to two Burnaby restaurants – one of them twice – was “frustrated” and “overwhelmed” and wanted to “teach somebody a lesson,” according to information presented at his sentencing hearing.

Steven Sean Sorenson, 49, was in Vancouver Supreme Court Thursday to be sentenced for three acts of arson in 2020.

A jury found him guilty in November of setting fire to popular Korean restaurant Jang Mo Jib (5075 Kingsway) and Sushi Oyama (5152 Kingsway) on April 11, 2020.

He had already pleaded guilty to another arson at Sushi Oyama on Nov. 6, 2020.

A new surveillance system installed after the first fire caught Sorenson on video shortly after midnight on Nov. 6, 2020 carrying a cardboard box up the stairs to Sushi Oyama’s patio doors, according to information presented in court by Crown prosecutor Phillip Sebellin.

The video shows Sorenson place the box near the doors and bend over it, Sebellin said.

Shortly after, the video shows the box in flames that eventually reach up to the roof.

“If not for the sprinkler system, the restaurant could have sustained catastrophic damage,” Sebellin said.

Combined, the three fires wreaked $571,234 in loss and damages, $10,000 of which Sushi Oyama had to pay out of pocket in the form of insurance deductibles, according to Sebellin.

He said it was “concerning” that Sorenson's reasons for setting the two restaurants on fire are unknown.

“Why he went back the second time to Sushi Oyama is also concerning,” Sebellin said.

A presentencing report provides the only clues to Sorenson’s motives.

“He was homeless, frustrated, overwhelmed,” Sebellin said, citing a section of the report. “He indicates he did not know how to cope with his circumstances and wanted to teach somebody a lesson … He recognizes his actions were extreme.”

The targets of the arsons, which occurred during the first and second waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in B.C., were both Asian restaurants, but Sebellin said there was no evidence to indicate the offences were motivated by hate.

Sebellin said Sorenson, who has been in custody since Jan. 5, 2021, should be sentenced to two years in jail, after time-and-a-half credit for time served, and three years of probation.

He argued the arsons were planned and deliberate, did “extensive” damage to the restaurants and were dangerous.

“The restaurants were not occupied at the time of these fires, but how would Mr. Sorenson know that?” Sebellin said.

Sorenson, who is representing himself, asked for the sentencing to be adjourned because he didn’t get the Crown’s sentencing materials until the day before the hearing Thursday.

His next court date is set for April 21.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
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