Buddhist temple attacked - again

Toronto Star, Nov 28, 2009

Second arson coincides with Tamil Martyrs Day

Toronto, Canada -- An arson at a predominantly Sinhalese Buddhist temple in Scarborough – the second since May – has cancelled services, leaving officials there frustrated and asking why they keep being targeted.

"We follow the Buddhist teaching. We don't get angry, we feel sad. (But) why is this happening to us?" asked Ahangama Rathanasiri, chief monk at the Toronto Maha Vihara Buddhist meditation centre on Kingston Rd., where police are investigating a deliberately set fire that started about 1:30 a.m. Friday.

"We aren't involved in politics. We don't like to bring all the politics from Sri Lanka to here," said Rathanasiri, who nevertheless called the arson an "act of terrorism."

In May, arson caused about $200,000 damage and shut down temple services and Sunday school until mid-September.

The latest blaze, which the fire department says did $4,000 damage – though temple officials believe it's higher – was confined to the exterior of the mostly wooden building.

Both arsons used flammable liquids, and 18 intact bottles of fluid found on the porch Friday indicate the blaze could have grown.

No one was inside at the time.

The shutdown for repairs will affect about 300 children and up to 60 adults who use the centre.

Staff Sgt. Ted Cook confirmed that, as with the first blaze, police are probing whether the tension between Toronto's Tamil and Sinhalese communities was a factor.

Leaders in the Tamil community cautioned against a rush to judgment about who is responsible.

"We condemn this act unequivocally. We don't condone this kind of action, but at the same time we want to caution everyone to not point the finger at anybody until we have all the facts," said David Poopalapillai, national spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress.

Rathanasiri noted Friday that some Tamils worship at the temple.

"This temple serves everyone, without ethnic tensions," he said.

Friday was Martyrs Day, when many Tamils honour "freedom fighters" slain pursuing a separate homeland in Sri Lanka, where the Sinhalese are the ethnic majority.

The May attack coincided with the Sri Lankan military's announcement it had defeated the Tigers and seized control of the island nation's entire coastline for the first time in a 25-year war.

Temple officials are hoping for a government grant to pay half of the $93,000 cost for 12 security cameras, a fence and extra lighting.