Hindu Samaj temple arson a cultural turning point for city

It took Hamilton police more than 12 years to solve the Hindu Samaj temple arson case, but community organizers say the fire changed the city as soon as it happened.

It took Hamilton police more than 12 years to solve the Hindu Samaj temple arson case, but community organizers say the fire changed the city as soon as it happened.

Police held a Wednesday morning news conference at the temple, on the Mountain, to announce three men had been charged with arson in connection with the fire set just  days after the 9/11 terror attacks. Police said it was a hate crime.

But for Narendar Passi, the temple’s president in 2001, the arson didn’t directly target Hamilton’s Hindus. 

“People were asking, at that time, if it was a hate crime … we said ‘no,’” Passi told CBC Hamilton.

This story features audio interviews with three of the people on hand today including Passi, Javid Mirza, a past president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton, and temple-goer Dr. Mahendra Deonarain. You can hear those pieces by clicking the play buttons on the left.

“Ignorance is brought this over on us … they did not know the difference between a Mosque, a temple and a church.”

This story features audio interviews with three of the people on hand today including Passi, Javid Mirza, a past president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton, and temple-goer Dr. Mahendra Deonarain. You can hear those pieces by clicking the play buttons on the left.

In the years following the shocking fire, the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion was founded with the goal of creating a safer, more welcoming and inclusive city.

The Centre’s executive director Evelyn Myrie, who was at the temple on Wednesday, remembers the months after the fire as “a very tragic time, but also a very exciting time,” which gave rise to a wider conversation about race and ethnicity in Hamilton.

“More and more people, I believe, are engaged in Hamilton than 12 years ago … I see much more diversity,” Myrie said.

“There is a definite shift in the conversation toward building a more inclusive city.”

Today, the centre is still at work trying to get ethnic groups engaged in the city and get them into leadership roles.

Hindus hoping to move on

Javid Mirza, who was president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton at the time of the fire, said the fire has had a “profound” affect on the city.

Today, he said, the police charges bring closure. But he hopes the conversation between religious and ethnic groups will continue. “We’re all Hamiltonians,” he said.

Passi said while he’s happy police made arrests in the case — during a private conversation he asked Chief Glenn De Caire if the accused men had confessed, but said he didn’t get an answer — his community is ready to move on. People don’t want to talk about the fire anymore, he said.

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