Hamilton police have arrested three men in the attacks on the Hindu Samaj temple and Hamilton Mountain Mosque that took place just days after the September 11, 2001 World Trade Centre terrorist attacks.
The case against the three would be prosecuted as a hate crime, police said. The Hindu temple was destroyed in the arson.
The three accused are Christopher Pollard, 33, Scott Ryan, 33, and Damien Marsh, 34, all from Hamilton. They are charged with arson, possession of incendiary materials and mischief under $5,000. All would have been in their early 20s at the time of the temple and mosque attacks. They appeared in court Wednesday and all were released on bail.
'"It was more than physical buildings that were destroyed that day.'- Police Chief Glenn De Caire
"In 2013, Hamilton Police Service received new information from the public," said Sgt. Matt Kavanagh of Hamilton Police as the arrests were announced at a press conference at the rebuilt temple. "The accused parties have been linked to both crime scenes."
Police used DNA evidence, but would not say what new information had been gathered to lead to the arrests.
The attacks on the temple and mosque took place in the early morning of Sept. 15, 2001. The incidents received international attention in the days following.
More than buildings
The significance of the crimes — and arrests — to the community were evident by the presence at the Wednesday press conference of Bratina, police chief Glenn De Caire and leaders of the Hindu and Muslim communities.
"It was more than physical buildings that were destroyed that day,” De Caire said.
The fire had a profound affect on the community, said Javid Mirza, who at the time was president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton.
“It was part of their 9/11, what happened here,” he said.
And those feelings extended internationally, as did the news coverage.
"This went around the world that Hamilton, Ont. had suffered this terrible occurrence," Bratina said. "If you ever felt you were not fully integrated into the fabric of Hamilton, you are now more than most of us."
Despite the horrific fire, community leaders agree there is a silver lining. It brought diverse Hamilton closer together. An umbrella organization meant to foster inclusion of all communities called the Strengthening Hamilton Communities Initiative was formed.
Arson changed city
“The temple fire, nobody wanted it but we ended up getting it,” said past president Narendar Passi. “The communities have supported us through and through and I cannot find enough words or appreciation for all these communities.”
Mirza said Hamilton has changed in the past 13 years – the many, diverse cultural communities know each other and work together – and it's time to move on from what happened on Sept. 15, 2011.
“At the end of the day, it was embarrassing,” Mariza said. “It was a bad day for the city of Hamilton. Now we have closure.”
Mirza remembers getting an early morning call from the police chief to say one of the city's mosques had been damaged.
He drove at “100 km an hour” at 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 15 to rush to the Hamilton Mountain Mosque on Stone Church Road.
“The front was damaged,” Mirza said. “There were all kinds of police.”
The broken window at the front of the mosque soon paled to what was happening elsewhere in the city.
An officer told Mirza there was a major fire on Twenty Road. He figured out right way it was the Hindu Samaj Temple, and it was fully engulfed in flames.
“The whole front of the building had already burned by then. There were still flames coming out of the back,” he said. “It was ashes. There was nothing left. Just a few walls were standing. That was it.”
On Wednesday, when police announced the arrests and charges, the crowd of community and temple members applauded.
Kavanagh said none of the accused men were previously known to police.
The Hamilton men were charged in connection with both the fire at the temple and the broken window at the mosque.
DNA evidence and “technological advancements to law enforcement also helped lead police to the accused,” said De Caire.
Among their conditions imposed on them as a condition of release are a list of people they are not to communicate with. Marsh and Pollard will reappear in court Dec. 31. Ryan will be back Dec. 17.
Facebook shows the three men as Hamilton residents and Ticats fans, depicting them in smiling photos with family and friends. Pollard is listed as being a graduate of Humber College and Cardinal Newman, and working at Toyota, while his partner Victoria DiMarco is co-owner of a local cleaning service.
DiMarco wouldn't comment when reached by CBC Hamilton on Wednesday.
"I have nothing to say to you. Thank you," she said.
Investigators believe there are more people who have knowledge of the arson, and want them to contact Det. Dave Oleniuk at 905-546-3874.