An employee of the City of London, Ont., west of Toronto has been charged with arson after an Indigenous-led project to house homeless people was set on fire.
On Nov. 7, a fire destroyed a vacant clubhouse at a city-owned golf course in London.
Raymond Deleary is executive director at Atlohsa Family Healing Services, an organization that was making plans to turn it into a temporary shelter for 30 people so they’d have a place to stay over the winter.
The agreement between Atlohsa and the city was being finalized when the fire destroyed the building, which is estimated to have caused one-million dollars in damages.
“Initially, when I first heard about the fire it was very disheartening,” says Deleary. “We were very saddened to hear that news and we had so much hope for this, this service offering to be located where it was located.
“Many of the community members involved with that process spoke about the need to access land and the need to access green spaces and natural settings where they feel naturally at home, like so many of us do.”
London police charged Michael Peter Belanger, an employee with the city, with arson.
The city says he has been suspended with pay.
Belanger is listed as an owner of a nearby home that was recently up for sale at a price of $1.6 million according to a report by the CBC.
“We take these allegations against our staff member very seriously,” says London Mayor Ed Holder. “We hold all employees to a high level of accountability in their service to our community. As such we will co-operate fully in the process with our London Police Service.”
Holder says he’s hoping to announce details about alternate sites soon.
Deleary called the crime an act of privilege.
“The displacement that has occurred over the past five-hundred years in this country obviously continues to occur. And now, not only by the state but now individuals acting on their own accord to say, ‘We don’t want you here,’ and this is what we’re going to do to show you that we don’t want you here.”
In a statement, Atlohsa said there is an urgent need for land to be returned to Indigenous Peoples.
Belanger is scheduled to appear in a London court Feb. 7.