Mosque fire in Peterborough was hate crime, say police

Mosque fire in Peterborough was hate crime, say police
(Tuesday, November 17, 2015) 07:02

Mosque, located in a quiet residential area of Peterborough, was torched on the weekend after the attacks in Paris killed 129 people.

PETERBOROUGH, ONT.—A fire set deliberately at a mosque in Peterborough, Ont., in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris is being investigated as a hate crime, police said Monday.

Murray Rodd, chief of police in Peterborough, told a news conference that any injury to one of the city’s ethnic communities is “an injury to us all.”

“We are treating this as a hate crime,” Rodd said. “The mosque in question is named, quite appropriately, the peace mosque, which fits into what is a very peaceful, very livable community.”

Insp. Larry Charmley added that other police forces have offered to help solve the case.

The mosque, located in a quiet residential area of Peterborough, was torched on the weekend after the attacks in Paris killed 129 people in a slew public gathering places, including a music hall and restaurants.

Larry Forsey, of nearby Coboconk, went out of his way to stop by the now-closed Masjid Al-Salaam, where he hugged Kenzu Abdella, the president of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association, and handed him some cash for repairs to the mosque.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Forsey said afterward. “It’s sad. People are down and they need help. Then let’s help them. That’s what Canada is supposed to be all about.”

Forsey was among a small stream of passersby who stopped at the mosque to express support or to donate cash on Monday.

Crimestoppers says an anonymous donor has put up $10,000 towards a reward for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the mosque fire. A crowdfunding initiative has also raised more than $90,000 for repairs.

Investigators in Kitchener, Ont., meanwhile, are investigating weekend vandalism at a Hindu temple there.

Dilip Dav, president of the Ram Dham Hindu Temple, said several windows at the rear entrance of the temple were shattered late Sunday night. No one inside was hurt, but they were unable to see who did the damage.

In Peterborough on Saturday, emergency services were alerted to smoke coming from the mosque. Firefighters discovered a broken window and were able to douse the flames, which caused about $80,000 in damage, mostly due to smoke.

Al-Salaam is the only mosque for about 1,000 Muslims who live in the area. About 50 families regularly attend services, and as many as 300 go on Fridays.

Christian and Jewish leaders, as well as community groups, immediately offered to open their facilities for prayers. Congregants will likely pray in a United Church on Friday, said Abdella.

Some faithful used the grass outside the mosque for noon prayers on Monday.

Shazim Khan, the mosque’s imam, expressed dismay at what had happened but called it a random act.

“This is just an isolated incident,” said Khan, who has lived in the area for the past eight years. “I know this community; the people are loving, caring.”

Dave Garskey, who lives in a bungalow across the street, stopped by to offer the imam help if needed.

“Some idiot probably did it, I don’t know why,” Garskey said after chatting with Khan. “Any sane person wouldn’t do it.”

Abdella said people had been “really amazing” in the wake of the mosque fire, but added that Muslims in Canada worry they could be painted with a violent, extremist brush.

“Some people may misunderstand what’s happening in other parts of the world and try to link that with Muslims here,” Abdella said. “That is really unfortunate because any time violence happens in any part of the world, Canadian Muslims, like any other Canadians, are offended by it and they condemn it.”

Political leaders issued statements condemning the mosque fire and expressing support for the community.

Maryam Monsef, the minister of democratic institutions and the area’s MP, said the incident didn’t reflect the “warm and generous” community, while Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett called the assault on a place of worship a “despicable act.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne called the arson “disturbing.”

“In the shadow of Friday’s violence, our open, peaceful, inclusive democracy is even more important to the world,” she said. “It is our responsibility in our own lives and communities to guard against and to resist the blame and generalizations that can lead to racism and hatred.”

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