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

Kelowna resident Teanna Elliot finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her parents

Another new brewpub proposed for Kelowna’s north end beer district

Kelowna city council will hear the proposal for another pub on Monday

Aircraft with mechanical issue safely returns to gate at YLW

As a safety precaution, emergency response teams were dispatched to standby

Update: Highway 97 now clear after early morning crash near UBCO

Traffic was detourted after a crash reported around 8:30 a.m. Friday

West Kelowna Warriors aim to continue first 3-game winning streak since 2018

The Warriors host the Surrey Eagles Friday night looking for win No. 4

Older Canadians highlighted in Kelowna film project to fight ageism

The project is part of a campaign to combat ageism

Woman convicted in Salmon Arm love triangle murder granted escorted temporary absences

Monica Sikorski was 17 when she plotted shooting death of 22-year-old Tyler Myers

Oliver Health Centre celebrates expansion of ER

B.C.’s Minister of Health was in Oliver for the official opening of the improved emergency department

New book released on the untold Indigenous history of Revelstoke

Swift River is Laura Stovel’s fourth book

Vernon contractor owes company $105K for unpaid work in Yukon

Judge awards Nuway Crushing Ltd. for 2018 work on Haines Highway in Yukon

B.C. offers $5 million equipment loan program to help ailing forest contractors

Local politicians in Port McNeill and Campbell River says local economies are struggling

Harlem Globetrotters’ Hops Pearce is pumped to bring show to Penticton

Less than two weeks to get your tickets to see Globetrotters’ high-flying stunts

Vancouver Island distillery wins award for best Canadian rye whisky

Shelter Point cleans up at Canadian Whisky Awards

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

Most Read