A burned totem pole at the Malahat lookout, believed to be arson, is being investigated by Shawnigan Lake RCMP.
Police say they were called just after 4 a.m. Friday by a passing motorist who saw the totem pole was on fire. The Malahat Volunteer Fire Department was already extinguishing the fire when officers arrived.
Shawnigan Lake RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Tim Desaulniers said the actions of the motorist prevented more damage to the totem pole and a potential wildfire.
“The quick thinking of the passing motorist likely saved not only the totem pole but also a forest fire,” said Desaulniers. “This was a very dangerous act that could have had far-reaching consequences. We will be working with partners along the Malahat for video and dashcam footage in an effort to identify suspect(s).”
Police say they seized evidence at the scene and will be working with the Vancouver Island Forensic Identification Section (FIS) to identify a suspect.
Graffiti was also located on the scene which police say speaks to recent events in Victoria where a statue of James Cook was thrown into the Victoria Harbour.
“Based on what was written, we feel the two incidences are related,” added Desaulniers.
The W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council said they were “extremely disappointed to learn of the acts of racist retribution that occurred yesterday on [their] sacred mountain, YOS.”
Chief Don Tom of the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council took a moment Friday to comment on both the totem pole fire and the toppling of the Cook statue.
“While the removal of the James Cook statue reminds the public of our presence, it is a two-edged political tool,” said Chief Tom. “On one hand, it pushes the envelope and forces the public to confront the real issues. On the other, it can embolden racists, sway moderates, and put Indigenous people in harm’s way. As a result, the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council does not condone this behaviour.”
Chief Tom also said the burning of the totem pole is a “shocking example of settler cruelty.” He said society needs to come together to “hold the crown and churches accountable for their actions” and have difficult conversations that he says will lead to reconciliation.
Police are asking witnesses who haven’t spoken to police or have video or other evidence to contact Shawnigan Lake RCMP at 250-743-5514.