Police identify suspect in Easter Sunday fire at Roman Catholic church

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Police identify suspect in Easter Sunday fire at Roman Catholic church

Toronto police have identified the suspect in a fire at a Roman Catholic church on Sunday that prompted the cancellation of Easter masses.

The fire at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church is believed to be deliberately set. No one was injured in the blaze.

Police said they are searching for 43-year-old Marc Porlier, of no fixed address. He is known to frequent the Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue, and Weston Road and Jane Street areas.

Security camera images of Porlier have been released.

Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu said the suspect has a history with police. If he is seen, members of the public are asked not to approach him.

Police received a call about the fire at the church, 49 George St., near Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue West, at 8:05 a.m. Toronto fire officials said the fire was out by 8:14 a.m. 

Neil MacCarthy, communications director for the Archdiocese of Toronto, said someone threw a "small firebomb" through a window into the church.

Staff preparing for the 9:00 a.m. mass at the church discovered the fire and called police and fire officials.

"This is the most joyful day for Christians around the world — Easter Sunday. So you have people who were arriving here in their Sunday best for Easter and learning the news of an act of vandalism and violence against their church. They're shocked. Some people were in tears, asking how could this happen," MacCarthy said.

"It's very distressing for the community. It hits close to home." 

'My knees are shaking'

Parishioner Jessie Boado called the incident shocking. "My knees are shaking," he said Sunday morning.

Boado said "not even in his nightmares" could he imagine such an act. He said he has no idea why someone would set a church on fire.

MacCarthy said the church is assessing the damage and will determine in the next couple of days when it will reopen.

District Chief Mike Lester, spokesperson for Toronto Fire Services, said firefighters encountered heavy smoke when they arrived within minutes of getting the call, but the fire had actually put itself out. Six fire trucks and more than 20 firefighters responded to the call.

The church was filled with smoke and a window was broken from the outside. Lester said the fire was found inside a window and a "substance" was found at the scene.

A rug caught fire and the fire was contained to a small area in the back of the church, he said, with total damage estimated to be around $5,000.

Fire investigators are trying to determine the cause, Lester said.

No one injured in fire

The Weston Historical Society said in a Facebook post that Easter masses at the church were cancelled due to the fire.

"As to whether this is a terrorist act, or whether it is the act of some pea-brained individual, we'll have to wait and see what comes of the investigation and as to whether or not security cameras picked up anything," the post reads.