Third man pleads guilty in temple arson case



Cathie Coward,The Hamilton Spectator
Hamilton, Ontario , Dec 19,2014, Scott Ryan arrives at the John Sopinka Court House Friday morning to appear in court for the first time since he was charged last year. Ryan is charged in the Hindu Samaj Temple arson that took place days after 9/11.

At long last, the Hindu Samaj Temple firebombing case is closed, and the congregation is now hoping to collect $30,000 in court-ordered donations to help other hate crime victims in Hamilton.

Scott Ryan, the third man accused of the post-9/11 burning of a Hamilton temple and the vandalism of a Hamilton mosque, pleaded guilty Friday.

He took the same plea deal as the other two men, his old friends Christopher Pollard, 34, and Damien Marsh, 35.

Their original charges of arson and possession of incendiary materials were replaced with two counts of mischief: one over $5,000 relating to the temple fire and one under $5,000 relating to broken windows at the Hamilton Mosque the same night.

For his mischief conviction, Ryan, like the other two, was sentenced to three years’ probation, ordered to perform 80 hours of community service and ordered to make a $10,000 donation to a charity of his victims’ choice.

The order was originally to make a donation to a charity of his choice (as was the order for Pollard and Marsh, who took the deal in October), but Justice Maria Speyer was concerned the funds could go to something potentially unrelated.

“How about a charitable contribution to a charity of the victims’ choice?” she said, visibly puzzled.

The Hindu Samaj Temple congregation said they would welcome —— and expect — all $30,000 of the court-ordered funds.

Vinod Kapoor, president of the new temple, said outside court Friday that the congregation intends to create an account to help victims of hate crimes across Hamilton. He pledged an additional $10,000 donation from his own pocket for the fund.

He and a handful of other members of the local Hindu community were in court Friday for Ryan’s plea. So was Det. Carmen Pietroniro of the Hamilton Police Hate Crimes.

While the convictions were for mischief in the end — which Pietroniro says “unfortunately … is where it fits into the criteria under the criminal code as far as property damage” — he believes that “from my perspective … I would obviously say there was hate bias to (the crime).”

He noted the facts that the men were young and drunk at the time of the crime, with no criminal records, were taken into account.

It was the early hours of Sept. 15, 2001, when they set fire to the temple. Ryan, Pollard and Marsh — all in their early 20s then — had been out drinking at bars, and were intoxicated, according to the agreed statement of facts.

They drove to the Hamilton Mosque on Stone Church Road to drink more. There, they threw beer bottles at its windows, breaking them. Leaving their bottles at the scene, they then picked up gasoline and matches and drove to the Hindu Samaj Temple on Twenty Road.

They poured the gas on the concrete staircase and deck of the temple, and lit a match. The fire, unnoticed at such an early hour, raged for so long the temple was destroyed, causing $500,000 in damage.

It wasn’t until last year — more than a decade later — that Hamilton police received information that identified these three men as the culprits. They then matched Pollard’s DNA to that found on the bottles and ultimately heard him confess.

Speyer acknowledged during sentencing Friday that Ryan had no other criminal record before or after that night, and that he is likely a different man today than he was at 20.

“Probably if you could’ve gone back in time and talked to that young man, you might’ve done things differently … but that is the man I am sentencing.”

She also stressed the hurt this caused to the temple and mosque congregations, especially having occurred so close to 9/11.

“These were very unsettling and disturbing times for our community. There was a lot of hate and discrimination … that’s what these acts are a manifest of,” Speyer said.

Ryan chose not to speak in court Friday. Only Pollard, of the three, addressed his victims in court.

“I’d like to personally apologize to my fellow Hamiltonians, who are members of the Hamilton Mosque and the Hindu Samaj Temple and I thank God that no one was injured or hurt,” he said at his Oct. 28 sentencing.