Mikhail Khavkine is charged with arson with disregard for human life in connection with a a fire at an Erindale office building in 2010.

Mikhail Khavkine is charged with arson with disregard for human life in connection with a a fire at an Erindale office building in 2010.

A Mississauga man who started a fire at an Erindale office building back in 2010 that injured several people and left more than 200 trapped is exaggerating or faking a mental illness to avoid being convicted criminally, a crown prosecutor is expected to argue in closing submissions later this month.

Mikhail Khavkine testified in Superior Court that God told him "everyone would rejoice" if he set fire to a carpet inside the Central Pkwy. building.

Instead, it sparked a massive blaze that injured several people, caused more than $5 million damage and left 200 people trapped.

Khavkine, 43, tried to plead not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder at his trial before Justice Bruce Durno.

However, Crown prosecutor Eric Taylor rejected the plea and wants the judge to find him guilty as charged.

Khavkine is charged with arson with disregard for human life. He will be back in court Oct. 23 for closing submissions.

Under cross-examination by the Crown, Khavkine, a bio-chemist and aspiring entertainment writer, admitted that he was at the Walmart at South Common Mall on Feb. 3, 2010 to purchase a barbecue lighter and kerosene for the deed.

Then he headed to Erindale Corporate Centre, an office building on Central Pkwy. W. that housed, among other tenants, Mississauga-Erindale MP Bob Dechert's constituency office.

Dechert has since moved his office.

"I was guided by the voice," Khavkine told court.

Khavkine said that just a few metres outside the politician's office, he poured the jug of kerosene onto the carpet and held the lighter a few inches from it when it suddenly sparked.

"It was something divine and it was very strange. I was flicking my lighter on and off when suddenly the fire started," Khavkine said. "I was very amazed by the power of the Lord."

Khavkine said God asked him to pray and make the sacrifice, even telling him to use kerosene instead of matches because "matches have sulphur and sulphur is the devil."

Khavkine recalled watching the carpet "burn like a candle and light up like a lamp," and said God told him once the fire burned, people would rejoice.

"I was so impressed by the power of the Lord," he said.

Taylor argued that Khavkine has changed his story repeatedly since being arrested by Peel Regional Police at Pearson International Airport on a flight from Russia just two weeks after the fire.

The trial heard that after assessing Khavkine, psychiatrist Dr. Jeff Van Impe determined he may be "malingering or faking" his mental illness.

Questioned by his own lawyer, Avi Baratz, Khavkine said that's not the case. He said his delusional illness caused him to experience blackouts to the point where he didn't recall even setting the fire for more than a year.

But, he testified, his memory came back after taking different medication and he now remembers that God told him to set the fire.

"It's not new (that I was acting on God's orders). It's what happened at that time," he said. "I couldn't remember it, but now I can."

Baratz will ask the judge to find his client not criminally responsible on account of a mental illness and that he be remanded into a "secure hospital."

Court also heard that Khavkine was angry for a number of reasons, including that the Children's Aid Society was trying to keep him from his only daughter and that a University of Toronto professor was allegedly stealing his ideas.

Taylor isn't disputing the accused has a mental illness. But he's arguing Khavkine knew the damage that could be caused and the criminal element of committing arson.

When grilled on those points, Khavkine repeatedly said under oath, "I was being guided by the Lord."

Police believe Dechert's third-floor office was the target of the fire.

Dechert said Khavkine visited the office a week prior to the blaze and when the office couldn't help him, staff sent him to a different level of government.

At the height of the blaze, employees and others in the building broke windows in attempts to ventilate the structure and escape the flames. Some 200 people were trapped for more than an hour.

Bobbi Mackellar, who still works in the building, spoke to The News Tuesday. She was treated for smoke inhalation at the time and, later, post-traumatic stress.

She was in the kitchen with other staff when the fire alarm went off. They thought it was a drill.

"When we came out of the kitchen, there was smoke coming up from under the doorway, so we knew it was serious," she said. "We could not believe how quickly the smoke rose to the fifth floor; we were all very scared, but, thankfully, all remained calm."

Mackellar recalls a co-worker who was pregnant and close to her due date. She said employees tended to her.

"We all worked as one team and were so great at helping each other remain calm, and once the fire department arrived we didn't panic and followed their instructions."

Mackellar, who says she's reminded of the blaze every day she goes to work, added, "All I could think about was how much I loved my family and how at the blink of an eye your life can change or end. We were all very lucky that the fire crew worked quickly to free up the stairwells so that we could exit."

Khavkine remains in custody and has been denied bail.

lrosella@mississauga.net