A car fire earlier this week in Rutland was targeted arson, Kelowna police say, and the victim believes it may be retaliation for her family’s opposition to an addict housing complex.
A Mini Cooper parked in the 300 block of Pearson Road was set alight about 1 a.m. Monday.
On her Facebook page, car owner Tanya Garratt described the frightening incident and noted her husband Jon had been publicly critical of plans for the supportive housing project.
“We were jarred out of our bed by the sounds of something exploding . . . that ‘something’ happened to be my prized Mini Cooper,” Garratt wrote. “My 18-month-old daughter was sleeping in our house, where my car was parked, when this happened. Think about that.
“Luckily, no one was hurt — it’s just a car,” she wrote. “So, do we shut up and let these people take our neighbourhood, which I am sure is what they want, or continue voicing our opinions?”
Like similar housing complexes around Kelowna and the province, the 49-suite project at the corner of McCurdy Road and Rutland Road is designed to provide a place to live for homeless people and/or those with addictions and mental-health issues.
The project has aroused considerable opposition in the neighbourhood, particularly for its proximity to schools and its potential to worsen existing problems with crime and open drug use. About 150 people demonstrated at the corner on Sunday, and critics vow to keep up their opposition even though the project has received all necessary approvals.
Kelowna police say the car fire was deliberately set.
“A Kelowna RCMP fire investigator has since conducted an examination of the charred vehicle and has now deemed the incident as an act of arson,” RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey said in a release. “Our investigators believe that the event was targeted.”
A suspect’s image was captured on a nearby surveillance camera. The unidentified suspect is approximately six feet tall, heavier set, and wore a light-coloured hoodie, light-coloured pants and dark shoes. Anyone with information is asked to call police.
Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal MLA Norm Letnick has called on the NDP government to pause plans for the housing project, saying it’s clear the undertaking does not have community support. The same night the car was set on fire, Letnick’s constituency office in Rutland was vandalized.
“My office has been located in Rutland for the past 10 years I’ve served as an MLA, and we’ve never had an issue before,” Letnick said. “Given the car-torching the same night, I think it’s fair to conclude it’s as a result of the current situation with supportive housing projects in Rutland. However, on which side of the debate, I cannot say.”
In a letter to The Daily Courier, sent Wednesday, NDP Housing Minister Selina Robinson criticized the former Liberal government for not doing enough to address homelessness.
“How does he think we find ourselves in this situation in the first place?” Robinson asks in the letter (See page A9). “The actions or, more accurately, inaction of his government created a housing crisis where even families and people with good jobs are struggling to afford housing or are at risk of becoming homeless.”