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

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Three young Sylvan Lake residents are asking for lights to be added to the walking trail system to make them safer and less scary at night. Photo by @workinonmyfitness72
Young Sylvan Lake residents ask for lights to be added to walking trails

Three young Sylvan Lake residents appeared before Council recently to present their ask

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Town of Sylvan Lake recieves funding to help with COVID-19 related revenue losses

Minister Devin Dreeshen says the funding will help the Town pay staff and provide services

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

Most Read