London

London city worker charged in River Road arson is a military vet, records show

The city worker who is charged with arson after a suspicious fire at a golf course clubhouse that was supposed to be used as part of a homeless shelter for Indigenous people is a Canadian military veteran, CBC News has learned.

Michael Peter Belanger, 54, is charged with arson in the Nov. 7 fire at River Road Golf Course

Michael Peter Belanger owns the home at 2255 River Road, three doors down from the River Road Golf Course. (Facebook.com)

The city worker who is charged with arson after a suspicious fire at a golf course clubhouse that was supposed to be used as part of a homeless shelter for Indigenous people is a Canadian military veteran, CBC News has learned.  

Michael Peter Belanger, 54, was charged earlier this week with one count of arson. After his arrest, he was released by police on an undertaking, a legally-binding promise to follow certain release conditions and to appear in court at a later date. 

The Department of National Defence confirmed Tuesday Belanger joined the regular forces in May 1987 and served until June 1990. He then transferred to the supplementary reserve, from which he was released in April 2004. 

The supplementary reserve is comprised of Canadian Armed Forces members who have previously served in the regular force or who have special skills or expertise for which there is a military requirement, according to the Department of Defence. 

Belanger was an artilleryman and attained the rank of private, but was not deployed, officials said. DND does not disclose release reasons for privacy reasons, a defence official said. 

Michael Peter Belanger, 54, seen here in an undated photo, has been charged with arson. (Facebook.com)

Property records show Belanger owns the home at 2255 River Road, three doors down from the River Road Golf Course where a Nov. 7 fire caused $1-million damage in the clubhouse, which was to be used as an integral part of a winter shelter for Indigenous Londoners experiencing homelessness. 

Court documents obtained by CBC News on Tuesday show Belanger was arrested on Friday, Nov. 12. He was released with the condition that he appear in court on Feb. 7, and that he's prohibited from going to the River Road Golf Course.  

Belanger was suspended with pay by the City of London, where he worked as a supervisor with the fleet services division.

Property records show Belanger has been the listed owner of 2255 River Road since 2017. The home was listed for sale for $1.8-million in September but taken off the market a few weeks later, only to be put back on the market on Oct. 1 for $1.6 million. It remains listed for that price but there is no For Sale sign at the home. 

The listing agent is Susie Dietrich, Belanger's spouse. "Nothing to do but move in and enjoy this property," the listing states. 

An view from the back of 2255 River Road, owned by Michael Peter Belanger, 54, as shown in a public real estate listing. (royallepage.ca/en/property/ontario/london/2255-river-road/16310903/mls40172178/)

Opposition to shelter

The city announced plans to use the River Road Golf Course, which has been shut down, as a temporary winter shelter to be run by Atlohsa Family Services, a move that was heralded as innovative by some but opposed by several neighbours, who wrote to the city about their concerns. 

"I find myself contemplating moving from this city, that is if I can even sell my house with this 'on the table,'" wrote neighbour Joan Duckitt. "I fear for my personal safety, and that of my property at the prospect of this plan. I have never felt unsafe in the 20 years I have resided here. I will now have additional outlay of money to purchase cameras and improve lighting around my home to help offset my anxieties. I am enraged that I must do so."

Trailers to house Indigenous people experiencing homelessness have started to arrive at the River Road Golf Course on the outskirts of London. London Morning gets an update from Andrea Jibb and Terri King with Atlohsa Family Services. 8:08

Others questioned whether there would be security to keep residents safe from those living at the shelter. 

"Nobody will want to buy my house now, where will I go? Why do I have to move? Been here 16 years, this is my children's childhood home. Who will protect them?" wrote River Road resident Joe Hogg. 

Atlohsa Family Healing Services says it is looking for an alternate location for the shelter since the arson, calling the crime part of the systemic process of colonization. 

"For centuries we have experienced this type of overt and systemic racism." said Raymond Deleary, Atlhosa's executive director. "When will enough be enough? We need systemic change at a much deeper level. The fact that the alleged perpetrator is a City of London staff shows how much further the London community needs to go in its efforts in ending anti-Indigenous racism and creating a safe city for Indigenous people."

The clubhouse of the River Road golf course sustained $1-million in damage after a fire that police say was deliberately set. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

With files from Amanda Margison

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