The RCMP in Alberta are investigating whether a fatal fire at a small-town Alberta motel may be connected to racist graffiti found at the scene.
Sergeant Jack Poitras said the RCMP are confirming that graffiti containing a racial slur was found at the Bashaw Motor Inn, which was destroyed by an explosion and fire early on the morning of Oct. 9.
One person was found dead inside the rubble, and three others were taken to hospital – two described as having serious injuries. Sgt. Poitras said the person who died has not yet been identified and that the cause of the fire has not been determined – nor whether it was a criminal act.
Sgt. Poitras said the RCMP are not releasing what the graffiti said for investigative reasons. He said they are still looking into whether the two acts are connected, adding that there is a great distance between an act of vandalism and starting a fatal fire.
"It could be separate," he said. "It could definitely be separate."
Residents of the town of Bashaw, about 140 kilometres south of Edmonton, say the motel was owned by the Tiwana family, who also lived there. The couple has two grown sons, one of whom just started university in Lethbridge.
Loren Jacobs, a member of the Bashaw Volunteer Fire Department, said the town of about 860 has been devastated by the fire and that people are coming together to help the family. A fundraiser set up on GoFundMe, titled "Support for the Tiwana Family," had raised almost $9,000 by Wednesday, and community members were also helping raise money through a bottle drive and private donations.
The GoFundMe page says the family "suffered tragic loss and severe injuries. … Their home was complete(ly) destroyed and their lives forever altered. … We offer our prayers and love to the Tiwana family as well."
Mr. Jacobs said it was hard to think that the devastating fire could have been intentional or that the family could have been targeted in a hate crime.
"I would hate to believe there would be any kind of criminal motive there. I would like to imagine it was an accident," he said. "There's not a lot of hate or racism or intolerance in our community, so I couldn't imagine that coming from inside our small community."