Police in the Canadian province of Alberta are investigating a fire that burned down a motel run by an Indo-Canadian family and claimed one life, with authorities looking into the possibility that the incident was a hate crime.
The fire occurred over the weekend at Bashaw Motor Inn, run by the Tiwana family in the rural town of Bashaw.
The wife and two sons of the motel’s owner were taken to hospital with fire-related injuries though he is yet to be located, leading to the belief that the remains of one person found at the site could be his.
The results of an autopsy, not yet released, will confirm the identity of the deceased and the cause of death.
The Alberta Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) confirmed “there was graffiti damage to property located on the premises of the Bashaw Motor Inn”. Spokesperson Corporal Ronald Bumbry referred to the graffiti and told the Hindustan Times: “Basically, it did contain a racial slur.”
However, the RCMP is unwilling to link the fire to that at this stage of the investigation, nor is it releasing information about the nature of the slur. “At this time, police have no information to indicate the mischief to property and motel fire are related in any way,” the RCMP said in a statement.
The Tiwana family have owned and operated the inn for more than a decade. One of the two sons has been discharged from hospital.
“No arrests” have been made yet, the RCMP spokesperson said, and police are still “determining what caused the fire”.
The tragedy has shaken the small rural community of Bashaw, which has a population of less than 900. “It has been difficult, it has impacted residents. We’re definitely feeling for the family,” the town’s chief administrative officer Theresa Fuller said.
The town’s residents have started several drives to raise money for the survivors. Among them is an online GoFundMe fundraiser that has yielded more than Canadian $10,000 so far. Town resident Jackie Northey, who started it, said this was because “the family is part of our community and they belong to our community. They have lost not just a business but their home.”
The facts of what actually happened in the episode will take a while to be established as the police sift through the evidence in the charred remains of the inn they are considering “to be a crime scene until proven otherwise”.