Man arrested after three alleged arsons at Masonic buildings in Metro Vancouver

·3 min read

VANCOUVER — A member of a Masonic lodge says he doesn't understand why Freemasons would be targeted after fires were allegedly set at three buildings operated by the society in Metro Vancouver on Tuesday.

"We've never heard any negative words or negative intents directed towards us," Cole Harvey said in an interview as fire crews blasted water at the smouldering North Vancouver Masonic Centre.

"I'm just absolutely shocked and quite heartbroken."

A 42-year-old suspect was arrested a few hours after the fires, Vancouver police Const. Tania Visintin told a news conference.

The man was picked up in the nearby suburb of Burnaby and Visintin said police will recommend arson charges to Crown counsel.

Investigators are working to determine a motive in the fires, she said, but she wasn't aware of any past threats to local Masonic centres.

Any connection between the fire at the Masonic lodge in Vancouver and the fires at two Masonic centres in North Vancouver is still under investigation, said Sgt. Peter DeVries of North Vancouver RCMP.

"There does appear to be some co-ordinated effort between our investigations," he said.

The fires are "unsettling for a lot of people," DeVries added.

The first fire was reported just before 6:45 a.m. at the Lynn Valley Lodge.

A second fire reported minutes later severely damaged the North Vancouver Masonic Centre located four kilometres away, police said in a statement.

No one was inside when the fire engulfed the Masonic centre, said North Vancouver fire Chief Greg Schalk.

He described the structure as a "total loss."

"A number of parts of the building have collapsed inward as well as outward onto the sidewalk and into the back of the building."

The building dates back to the early 1900s and housed a library of old books, art and photographs, Harvey said.

"It's a stunning loss."

A third fire at a Masonic hall in east Vancouver was reported at about 7:30 a.m. Fire officials said it caused little damage.

An off-duty police officer was driving in the area around the time the fire was reported, said Visintin, and he saw a man leave the building.

"The building was partially on fire. He confronted this man. A physical fight ensued between the man and the off-duty police officer."

The man got away, but Visintin said the officer "probably stopped anything further, anything more serious from happening."

Visintin could not confirm that the man confronted by the officer is the same man who is in custody. But she said the off-duty officer gave dispatchers observations that led to the arrest in Burnaby.

Police do not believe there is any further threat to Masonic halls in Metro Vancouver, she said.

The Society of Freemasons was founded more than 300 years ago as a trade group and continues today as a social organization operating around the world.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press