This won’t be funny. Cynical. Or anything with a twist.
I live in Varsity, a Calgary neighbourhood.
This morning, I woke up just before five—the wee hours—to the faint smell of smoke. Instinct kicked in. I raced to my bedroom window. Across the street, there were flames leaping from the roof of a home. Called 911. Hurried out the door in my housecoat, worried the family with the house on fire didn’t get out.
Just two weeks ago, my very pregnant daughter-in-law phoned in the middle of the night to tell us their neighbour’s home was on fire, also in the Calgary neighbourhood of Varsity.
Thank God, no one has been injured in either of these fires. But two families have had their homes destroyed. Burnt to the ground.
Calgary fire crews are searching for a suspected arsonist. Security camera footage from the first Varsity fire clearly shows a man torching a back shed; in the footage I saw, he—definitely a he—had a hand gun. Security camera footage from the today’s fire, shows the same guy, riding a bike this time. In these images, the arsonist doesn’t look to be intoxicated or staggering; he is moving quite deliberately.
Why would anyone do this?
After the first fire, neighbours were alarmed but eased their fears by concluding (wrongly) — it must have been a targeted hit of some sort (use your imagination). After the second fire, people realized that it could happen to anyone. These are random acts of senseless violence.
What happens if the next fire (god forbid!) happens to someone who doesn’t smell the smoke, or hear the fire alarm, or can’t move quickly enough to flee to safety?
Varsity isn’t a gated community, and it’s not as posh as other addresses in Calgary, say Mount Royal or Elbow Park, the symbols of Calgary’s elite. But it’s largely a ‘have’ community and you have to wonder if the arsonist is sending a message.
Deranged, the addicted, mad as hell and not giving a damn, whatever, there’s been a substantive uptick in violence on the streets in Calgary. And what of the recent murders in Edmonton’s Chinatown in broad daylight? What the hell is going on? It’s been said mental health interventions are out of whack in the capitol city. What that means is people who should be incarcerated or constrained for their own good because they’ve literally gone mental, have been left to roam unhinged. And the police reluctant to intervene because, well…because until there’s an actual crime they don’t have the authority to do what should be done, and has been done in the past.
Think of it: Two dead within two blocks of each other. A gang hit? Some desperate guy with a gun?
No one will disagree that our world has turned on its axis. That everything is confusing and shaken from old norms. People are reaching the ends of their rope. We care deeply for the desperate, but if we don’t figure out how to apprehend this arsonist in Varsity—whatever his story or motive—we are creating the conditions for him to keep torching homes.
And if he ends up killing someone, it’s on all of us.