A general view of the Radisson Hotel Toronto East in Toronto’s North York area is shown on Saturday, October 13, 2018. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Police investigate alleged arson at Toronto hotel housing asylum seekers

Police believe the fire was started intentionally, but they have not spelled out a possible motive

Toronto police are investigating an alleged arson at a hotel temporarily housing asylum seekers amid concerns raised by an immigrant services organization about anti-refugee sentiment circulating online.

Police said they are looking for a suspect after a fire was started on the third floor of the Radisson Hotel Toronto East on the night of Oct. 2. They said the fire was extinguished quickly and no one was injured.

They said they believe the fire was started intentionally, but they have not spelled out a possible motive.

“There is no indication at this time that the arson is an attack on the refugees staying at the hotel,” police said in an emailed statement.

But Mario Calla, the executive director of COSTI Immigrant Services, which has been connecting refugee claimants with services in Toronto, said he believes the fire “targeted” the asylum seekers.

He said he’s worried the arson could be linked to misinformation spreading about the refugee claimants on the hotel’s TripAdvisor page, along with videos that have been posted online.

“We have to wait for police to hear for sure what the motive was, but it’s hard to think there was any other reason,” said Calla, adding that in the days before the fire, “people were filming in the hotel and there were videos posted maligning the refugee claimants.”

He referenced a series of videos posted on YouTube in late September and earlier this month that accused the refugee claimants of damaging the hotel.

Calla said around the same time there were TripAdvisor reviews of the hotel that made “extreme” statements that the refugee claimants were causing chaos, including one review that said goats were being slaughtered in the hotel.

“That is all false,” said Calla. “This was posted by people with white nationalist views. These people don’t want refugees in Canada.”

He said on the day of the fire, there were “white nationalists” gathered outside the hotel.

READ MORE: Two years later: Most Syrian refugees settling well in B.C., report says

Police said investigators “have not advised of any chaos in the hotel,” and the Radisson’s management directed all media requests to COSTI.

In August, the federal government announced it would rent hotel rooms for migrants who had been staying at college dormitories in the Greater Toronto Area during the summer. The hotel stays were supposed to last until Sept. 30, but they will be extended for four weeks while the federal and municipal governments work out a more long-term solution.

Calla said the hotel is temporarily housing 577 refugee claimants, most of whom are from Nigeria.

DJ, a 38-year-old man who only gave his first name, said he and his family are refugee claimants from Nigeria who have been staying at the Radisson for about four months.

He said he grew ”concerned” for the safety of his three young children after he heard from other occupants that the fire may have been deliberately set.

“We were sleeping and the fire alarm woke up me and my children. I am worried for them. I am concerned,” he said, adding he hopes to find a permanent home for his family soon.

Calla said as a result of the incident, along with the “anti-refugee” sentiments online, the hotel has hired additional security guards and installed more surveillance cameras.

“The refugee claimants are good people and they are grateful to be staying at the hotel,” said Calla.

“These people came to escape their (home country) to be safe, and now they don’t feel safe.”

Alanna Rizza, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

The directive comes after province spoke with paramedics, fire services, according to top doctor

Surrey city council moving to virtual meetings

For public hearings, people can register to speak via telephone

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

COVID-19: Daily update on the pandemic in Surrey, White Rock, Delta and beyond

APRIL 4: Two people in Delta fined for trying to re-sell N95 masks

33-storey highrise proposal coming to Surrey council, first of three phases

Second and third phases include 36-storey and 31-storey towers

Education, not enforcement: B.C. bylaw officers keeping a watch on physical distancing

A kind word, it turns out, has usually been all people need to hear

Insurance shock for B.C. condo owners

Claim-free two-year-old townhouse complex told premium will nearly triple

Canadian cadets to mark 103rd anniversary of Vimy Ridge April 9 virtually

Idea of Captain Billie Sheridan in Williams Lake, B.C. who wondered what to do in times of COVID-19

Emergency aid portal opens Monday, cash could be in bank accounts by end of week: Trudeau

Emergency benefit will provide $2,000 a month for those who have lost their income due to COVID-19

B.C. VIEWS: Pandemic shows need for adequate care home staffing

Seniors in B.C. care homes face challenging times

QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Take this test and find out how well you know Canada’s most popular winter sport

Researchers look at humidity as a weapon in the fight against airborne viruses

Regular hand washing, physical distancing and PPE for health care workers remains best line of defense

Exercises move online with YMCA’s new nationwide virtual workout program

YThrive Home offers dozens of free workout videos for people during COVID-19 self-isolation period

Most Read