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September 27, 2001   VNN6896  Comment on this story

Temple In Canada Burnt To The Ground


CANADA, Sep 27 (VNN) — On what police are calling a backlash hate crime, a 17-year-old Hindu temple in Hamilton, Ontario, was burned to the ground on September 17.

"We have identified it as a hate crime," Sgt Maggie McKittrick of the Hamilton police force said. She said there has been a spate of incidents against Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, "but the temple burning has been the most significant hate crime."

She said "independent witnesses" have helped the police identify three suspects in the arson. They are currently under investigation, she said.

McKittrick declined to identify them, saying no arrests had been made yet, and "we are still gathering evidence." But she did say they were white men. Shortly before the fire was set, the windows and doors of the Hamilton Mosque were smashed out, McKittrick said, noting: "We have a belief that the two may be linked."

Shocked members of the Hindu community stood at dawn and watched the fire tear through their temple as firefighters tried hard to contain it. Damage is estimated at $350,000. According to the temple president's wife, Chitra Passi, the fire, which probably started around 3 am, largely spared the library in the temple basement that contained a "very precious collection of books."

But all five altars - for Ganesha, Durga, Radha-Shyam, Siva and Rama - were badly damaged. Temple priest of eight years Hari Bhajan Sharma said he was fast asleep in his house next door when someone knocked on his door at around 5:30 am and told him about the fire. He quickly called the temple president, he said.

Sharma said he was heartbroken by what had happened, but added: "We are going to build a new temple."

Hamilton, located about 40 miles from Toronto, has a population of around 500,000, according to Jane Mulkewich, Hamilton police force community relations coodinator. Of them, between 2,000 and 3,000 are Hindus, while around 12,000 are Muslims.

The city boasts seven mosques, three gurudwaras and one Hindu temple.

The incidents at the temple and mosque happened despite increased police patrolling around places of worship since September 13, when death threats were left on the answering machine at the Hamilton Mosque.



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