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Vancouver police arrest suspect in three Masonic Hall arson fires

RCMP are asking that anyone with information about these fires to contact them.

UPDATE 3:50 p.m.

Police released new details regarding Tuesday’s arson investigation and a suspect’s subsequent arrest during a press conference held this afternoon.

Vancouver Police Department (VPD) Cst. Tania Visintin says while a 42-year-old man is in police custody motive is still being established after Masonic halls in Vancouver and North Vancouver were set on fire this morning. As the man hasn't been charged yet, his identity isn't being released.

Visintin did add that police believe there is no further threat to do with the case.

Visintin addressed video currently circulating on social media showing a confrontation between an off-duty officer and a man carrying what appears to be a jerry can out front of the Mason hall at Rupert Street and East 29 Avenue around 7:30 am. However, she wouldn’t confirm that the man currently in police custody is the same as the man in the video.

"(The off-duty officer) did witness a man exit the building there, the building was partially on fire," Visintin said. "He confronted this man. A physical fight ensued."

The man got away, but the off-duty officer was able to call in the interaction to dispatch.

The man in police custody now was arrested just before 10 a.m. in Burnaby. Visintin said he does have a history with police.

"He's had interactions with police and I think there is something for criminal harassment in his past," she said.

Freemasons are a fraternal organization known for their secretive nature including symbols, passwords and other rituals.

ORIGINAL 3 p.m.

Two Masonic Halls in North Vancouver and a third in Vancouver have been torched and one man has been arrested.

The first structure fire, at the Masons’ Lynn Valley Lodge, was called in around 6:30 a.m. Just 15 minute later, the Capilano Lodge in Central Lonsdale was in flames. A third blaze at the Park Lodge Masonic Centre in East Vancouver was reported at 7 a.m.

Vancouver Police Department members arrested a 42-year-old suspect in Burnaby later in the morning, following a joint investigation with the North Vancouver RCMP. Investigators will be recommending the Crown charge the man with arson.

“This investigation unfolded very quickly,” said Sgt. Peter DeVries of the North Vancouver RCMP. “By sharing information and co-ordinating our efforts we were able to move swiftly as new information became available.”

Outside the Lynn Valley Lodge, North Vancouver Masons were in shock.

“Basically, someone knocked down the door and threw a firebomb in,” said Tom Anstruther. “Pretty darn strange, isn't it? It's rather scary. Why are you attacking the Masons?”

It took about half an hour to extinguish the Lynn Valley fire. The 97-year-old building suffered heavy fire damage near the entrance and smoke and water damage throughout, said assistant fire chief, Jeremy Duncan.
The Lonsdale fire, meanwhile, totally destroyed the historic 110-year-old three-storey structure. By the time crews arrived, it was already too late to save the building, said North Vancouver City Fire Department chief Greg Schalk. All the could do was stop it from spreading and consuming surrounding structures.

“This is this is a significant fire for us, for sure. It's a total loss of a very historic building in the City of North Vancouver,” he said.

Also lost in the Lonsdale fire was Odyssey Video – the last movie rental shop on the North Shore, and Jack’d Nutrition and Supplements. The neighbourhing buildings suffered some smoke and water damage, Schalk added.

As of noon, firefighters were still putting out hot spots and what’s left of the building was in rickety shape.

“It is a very unstable structure at this time. A number of parts of the building have collapsed inward and as well as outward onto the sidewalk,” Schalk said.

No one was hurt in any of the fires, thankfully.

Capilano Lodge senior warden Peter Hill said the members are totally baffled as to why they were targeted.

The Masons are a fraternal organization dating back hundreds of years. In modern popular myth, they are a shadowy secret society but during their twice-monthly meetings, all they ever discussed was the service organization’s charitable works, Hill said.

“We haven’t done anything to hurt anybody,” Hill said, noting the fire may be a setback for Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Harvest Project’s food bank and Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society, all of which the Masons contribute to.

“It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. He is not only harming the Masonic Lodge, he’s harming people that depend on them for help,” Hill said.

It’s too soon to discuss plans for rebuilding either lodge, but the members plan to regroup and move forward.

“Our community is intact. As a group of friends and fraternal brothers, we’ll continue doing what we do,” said Cole Harvey, noting the groups have been holding virtual meetings online for the last year.

The Lonsdale building’s interior was beautiful, Harvey said, with historic archives, Masonic symbols and artifacts.

“I’m just broken-hearted. I’m just dumbfounded. It’s just such an incredible loss,” he said.

North Vancouver RCMP are asking that anyone with information about these fires call them at 604-985-1311.

"We're asking anyone who may have video surveillance, or who may have witnessed anything suspicious near these locations between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. this morning, to please contact us," DeVries said.