Charges laid in arson near Liberty Village encampment

TORONTO — A suspect has been arrested in connection with an arson near a homeless encampment in Liberty Village on Friday night.

The fire broke out under the King-Liberty Pedestrian bridge shortly before 8 p.m. and police said they believe a suspect deliberately set the fire using a substantial amount of combustible materials.

The fire led to heavy smoke and flames but crews were able to quickly bring the blaze under control. No injuries were reported but the bridge did sustain damage.

Police say 28-year-old Vincze Laszio, of Scarborough, has now been charged with arson causing damage to property, common nuisance, mischief over $5,000, and possession of incendiary material.

He is scheduled to appear in court at Old City Hall on Sunday.

Const. David Hopkinson said Saturday that the incident could have been very tragic had one of the people staying at the nearby encampment been hurt.

In a statement released on Saturday, City of Toronto spokesperson Brad Ross said officials continue to “engage with people occupying encampments, encouraging them to come inside where it is safer.”

“We have seen a 250 (per cent) increase in encampment fires in the last year. Thankfully there were no injuries last night, but living in encampments is not just unsafe, it (is) also unhealthy,” the statement read.

Speaking to CP24 on Sunday, Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor with Sanctuary Toronto, slammed the response, accusing the city of victim blaming.

“This fire was set, clearly from the video, by somebody coming from outside. The city’s focus needs to be protecting people, not on blaming them when they’ve been targeted,” he said.

He said that the city could do much more to improve safety at encampments, including giving people fire blankets and fire extinguishers and providing a safe heating supply for residents.

“Its (the city’s) overriding concern is to disappear these encampments, to make them invisible, to make homelessness an invisible issue,” Hatlem said. “If it was about safety, their actions would be much, much different.”

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