Metro Morning

Mosque arson 'totally out of character,' says mayor of Peterborough, Ont.

Community leaders in Peterborough, Ont., held a news conference Monday to decry an arson attack against a local mosque on Saturday. Police say they are treating it as a hate crime.

PM Trudeau says Canada 'will not abide innocent and peaceful citizens being targeted'

Community leaders in Peterborough, Ont., from left to right, Mayor Darryl Bennett, MP Maryam Monsef and Imam Shazim Khan, on Monday talked about a deliberately set fire at the community's sole mosque. (CBC, Maryam Monsef, CBC)

Community leaders in Peterborough, Ont., where a mosque was set aflame over the weekend, came together on Monday to condemn the attack, which police are investigating as a hate crime. 

The attack against the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association "is totally out of character" for the southern Ontario city said Mayor Darryl Bennett during a news conference. 

His comments were echoed by association president Kenzu Abdella and, in a statement issued later in the day, by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"This is not what we are used to in Peterborough," said Abdella.

"The Muslim community is active in the local community and has open houses on a regular basis. We are touched by the overwhelming support we have received. This incident has shocked all of us."

Trudeau said he was "deeply disturbed" by the incident, adding that Canada "will not abide innocent and peaceful citizens being targeted by acts of vandalism and intolerance." 

'This is not the Peterborough way, certainly not the Canadian way.'— Maryam Monsef, MP

Police say that just after 11 p.m. on Saturday a window at the mosque was broken. Some kind of accelerant was placed in the building. Fire crews were able to extinguish the fire quickly. No one was inside at the time, but it happened hours after a gathering at the mosque to celebrate the birth of a baby. 

Police said they have no evidence the arson was connected to Friday's attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead. One anonymous donor has come forward to offer a $10,000 reward for anyone who provides police with information that leads to an arrest. 

Earlier in the day, the area's MP called the arson an "ugly, unacceptable act." 

This will not change our perception of the community.— Imam Shazim Khan

Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef, a Muslim who came to Canada as a refugee from Afghanistan 20 years ago, said she was "shaken up" by news of the fire. 

"This is not the Peterborough way, certainly not the Canadian way," Monsef said Monday in an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "Like everyone here … I was disappointed, shaken up and somewhat confused to be honest."

The fire caused about $80,000 in damage. A crowdfunding campaign was launched Sunday to raise that amount to pay for repairs. The campaign had shot past that total by noon ET today, and was suspended shortly after it crossed the $110,000 line. 

Campaign organizers say the extra money will go to other charitable efforts, to be announced later. 

The mosque's imam thanked the community for its outpouring of support, and expressed confidence in the investigation. 

"This will not change our perception of the community," Imam Shazim Khan said at the news conference. "We know this is a great community — peaceful, loving, welcoming.

"If anyone's supposed to be afraid it's me. But I feel secure." 

Imam Shazim Khan thanks Peterborough community for support

7 years ago
Duration 0:59
Imam Shazim Khan thanks the Peterborough community for support following the fire at the Masjid Al-Salaam mosque.

Community has 'condemned this'

Monsef came to the area when she and her family fled the Taliban in Afghanistan. She said the community welcomed them "with open arms." Monsef said it's this spirit, not the one that motivated the arsonists who damaged the mosque, that defines her community. Peterborough is a community of about 78,000 to the west of Toronto. 

"As Canadians, we have the privilege of being able to choose: Do we want to be defined by fear and a divisive narrative, or do we want to be defined by who we truly are, which is a welcoming inclusive nation?"

Monsef, who is also the minister of democratic institutions, said the arson and Friday's attacks in Paris have not deterred the community's interest in accepting some of the 25,000 Syrian refugees who the federal government has vowed will be settled in Canada in the next few weeks.

Peterborough resident Tayiba Akhtar attends the mosque with her family once a week. Originally from Kuwait, she moved to Ontario from the United States four years ago and said she and her family feel safe and accepted in the community, though news of the arson came as a shock.

"We are so amazed to the see the love and the support from the Peterborough community," she told CBC News. "I feel accepted. [The fire] is not something I would expect from here."


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