Buddhist temple victim of arson for second time

A Buddhist temple in Scarborough was in flames again in what is suspected to be the second case of arson at the site in just seven months. Just before 2 a.m. on Nov. 27 police and fire services responded to a call of a blaze at the Maha Vihara Buddhist Meditation Centre on Kingston Road.

Monks living beside the temple were unaware of the fire until the fire department had already arrived. A TTC driver reported the fire while on the job.

“Fortunately, a TTC driver had seen. He had passed by in a bus. So when he saw this he immediately called the police,” said Ahangama Rathanasiri, a Buddhist monk at the temple.

According to reports, multiple bottles of flammable liquid were discovered on the porch where extensive damage occurred to the outside of the building.

“As a result of further investigation police have determined, along with fire services, that it was arson and the investigation is on going,” said Constable Wendy Drummond.

On May 16 a similar fire erupted at another entrance of the building where bottles of flammable liquid were also found.

“We have come here to live in peace. Now we don’t have peace. We live in fear,” Rathanasiri said.

Police have still not been able to apprehend those responsible.

“We enlisted the services of our police dogs and they did attend and were able to track a bit of a trail but unfortunately the trail ended and it didn’t result in any arrests,” Drummond said. “We’re working with the community in regards to continuing to follow up any leads or tips that come in but at this point we do not have any suspects.”

The attacks on the predominately Sinhalese temple have occurred at a time when civil war is happening in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese and Tamils. This latest attack occurred on the same day as the Tamils’ “Martyr’s Day” which commemorates Tamil fighters who have died in the conflict.

“I think the reason is, personally they don’t have problems with us, with the monks here, the purpose is to hurt Sinhalese Buddhists,” Rathanasiri said.

Even before the latest attack the monks had been hoping to increase security.

“Within two weeks we are going to install the cameras. After that I don’t know exactly what date we can start the fence work. First we have to collect money,” Rathanasiri said.

The temple was hoping for funding from the government to build the fence but so far none has come.

“Our Consulate General had told us that the government had implemented a pilot project to use some money for the security purposes of charitable organizations,” Rathanasiri said. “We submitted all the documents to the government. So far we didn’t get any money. We were waiting for that money. Now I think we cannot wait that much time, we have to collect some money from the congregation and build that fence.”

According to Drummond, since the last incident, police have increased in patrolling the area.

The temple property was once a favoured speed trap spot of 43 division police until some members complained.

“Some people come here to practice mediation. When they see the police cars their mind’s disturbed,” Rathanasiri said. “So we politely informed the police. Then they listened to us. They sent us a letter, nicely, in a polite way that they would stop.”

In 1997, the Lido motel down the road from the Buddhist temple, was the site of a neo-Nazi demonstration against resident refugees.