One of the Walmart fires mid-blaze. Photo courtesy of Simba's Contracting.
Police are investigating if anti-mask anger was the reason three toilet paper aisles in three different Ontario Walmarts were set ablaze. The suspected arsons in question all took place Tuesday evening within about an hour of one another in Kitchener and Waterloo, two neighbouring towns an hour southwest of Toronto. All of the fires were set in the toilet paper/paper towel section of the stores. A photo submitted to VICE News shows a large fire engulfing a pile of Charmin Ultra Strong toilet paper with the flames reaching well above the shelves and nearly hitting the ceiling. The fires set off the internal sprinkler system in the Walmarts and firefighters quickly extinguished the blazes upon their arrival.
Cherri Greeno, a spokesperson for Waterloo Regional Police, told VICE News police are investigating the fires as arson and are trying to determine if they were all set by the same suspect. Global News is reporting that the force is investigating an anti-mask motive into the crimes. Greeno said every motive, including anger at COVID-19 regulations, is still on the table. "We have received a lot of tips over social media as well that we'll be following up on,” said Greeno.
One of the tips police received involves a tweet from September 30 from an anti-masker that specifically targets Walmarts in the area. “Does anyone in Kitchener/Waterloo want to start attacking places like Walmart who are refusing Canadians service because they have a medical condition that isn't COVID?" tweeted @kdub420. “Does anyone want to actually take the next step and start fighting back? If so message me."The tweet contained a photo of the man holding a print out of Walmart’s mask policy. Global News is reporting the tweet is a direct part of the police investigation. The user’s Twitter account has since been deleted. VICE News saw the page before its removal and can confirm it contained several anti-mask and COVID-19 messages. Anti-mask anger is growing in Ontario as the pandemic enters into its ninth month, with large rallies in Toronto against COVID-19 regulations and many videos being posted online of anti-maskers getting into arguments with workers and fellow customers at shopping centres. This anger is only intensifying as the increase in Canadian COVID-19 cases, and the regulations to stall the spike, continue. Greeno said the fires have caused over $12 million in damage. Officers are still attempting to gather security footage from nearby businesses and are asking anyone with information to come forward. Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.