Suspect of Weston church fire facing arson, mischief charges
Rachael D'Amore and Courtney Greenberg, CTV Toronto
Published Monday, April 17, 2017 11:55AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 17, 2017 6:57PM EDT
A suspect wanted in connection with an arson on Easter at St. John Evangelist Roman Catholic Church is now under arrest.
Investigators believe the fire was started early Sunday morning after a suspect threw a “flammable device” through a window. When church-goers arrived on Easter, they were told the church would not be able to host the service.
A suspect later identified by police as 43-year-old Marc Porlier was located by the OPP Huntsville Detachment around 2:30 p.m. on Monday. He was charged with arson and mischief over $5,000, according to officers.
Father Andrew Maderak told CP24 that a student volunteer arrived to open the church that morning and called him when she saw the smoke.
“I thought, okay, maybe there’s a little bit of smoke. I said to open the windows. But when I came in, you could probably not see 10 feet in front of you… opening the windows was the wrong thing to do,” he said.
Though the fire burned itself out before crews arrived and was contained to a small area, much of the church is covered in soot.
One of several security cameras on the premises -- installed by Father Maderak after a spate of minor vandalism incidents -- was completely charred.
Police said they would not be releasing security camera footage that shows a suspect climbing on the fence with a piece of concrete in one hand, smashing the window, pouring a flammable liquid into the church, and then lighting a fire.
The total damage is estimated at around $5,000.
“At first, it didn’t look like there was much damage but it’s quite evident that there is,” he said. “All the books have to be removed, cleaned, any of the linens need to be removed off site.”
Father Maderak said scaffolding will be erected inside the church sometime this week so clean-up crews can reach the ceiling and pillars.
He hopes the church will reopen for mass this weekend.
“It feels like a personal attack on something that I hold sacred. I did tear up myself when I saw the inside footage of the fire flaring up," Maderak said. "It’s kind of… it’s hard to watch, something go up in flames.”
Mayor John Tory visited the church this afternoon to discuss the incident with Father Maderak and parishioners.
"When this kind of thing happens, it cuts to the heart of a community that has been a wonderful, contributing community in our city for decades," Tory said.
"I think it must have been a divine hand that looked down on this church because you can see how easily the whole church, the wooden part of the structure, could have erupted in flames if it had been any different but fortunately that didn’t happen."
Toronto Fire Services have yet to determine exactly what kind of device was used to spark the fire.
Police say Porlier was known to frequent the Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue area, as well as the Weston Road and Jane Street area.
Father Maderak, who has presided over the church for the last two and a half years, said he believes Porlier is a former parishoner.
In an online documentary called "The Gospel According to Marc," posted Vimeo in February 2011, the suspect expressed his feelings toward the church.
“The reason I'm doing this film is because I was raised Roman Catholic, and to me what that means is that I was raised in a cult,” he said.
One of Porlier’s friends suggested he needed help.
“I’ve known Marc most of his life, because of our mutual involvement here. His mom and dad (were) in this parish for a long time, always very involved. We are looking on this as a great tragedy,” the friend told CTV News Toronto on Monday afternoon.
Porlier is scheduled to appear in court on April 19.
Anyone with information is being asked to call police or Crime Stoppers.