Scarborough Buddhists say they fear for their safety after their temple erupted in flames on Nov. 27 in what is suspected to be its second case of arson in seven months.
Police and fire services responded to the call at the Maha Vihara Buddhist Meditation Centre on Kingston Road just before 2 a.m.
Monks living beside the temple were unaware of the fire until the fire department arrived. A TTC driver reported the fire while on the job.
“Fortunately, a TTC driver had seen it,” said Ahangama Rathanasiri, a Buddhist monk at the temple. “He had passed by in a bus. So when he saw this he immediately called the police.
“We have come here to live in peace,” Rathanasiri said. “Now we don’t have peace. We live in fear.”
Bottles of flammable liquid were discovered on the porch where extensive damage occurred to the outside of the building, according to reports.
“As a result of further investigation police have determined, along with fire services, that it was arson and the investigation is ongoing,” Const. Wendy Drummond said.
On May 16, a similar fire erupted at another entrance of the building where bottles of flammable liquid were also found.
Police have not yet been able to apprehend those responsible for either incident.
“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.
Rathanasiri said he did not think the arsonists had any problems with the monks at the temple. “The purpose is to hurt Sinhalese Buddhists.”
Even before the latest attack the monks had been hoping to increase security.
“Within two weeks we are going to install the cameras,” Rathanasiri said. “After that I don’t know exactly what date we can start the fence work. First we have to collect money.”
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.”
So far, the Maha Vihara Buddhist Meditation Centre has collected $15, 000 from its congregation in order to pay for the camera system. Also, one member of the congregation gave the temple a 5-year, interest-free loan of $55,000 in order to pay for the installation of a new fence to help protect the site.
According to Drummond, since the last incident, police have increased patrols in 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 practise 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.