Two Catholic churches on First Nations reservations in British Columbia are the latest churches burned down this month under what police have claimed are suspicious circumstances.
The Sacred Heart Chuch in Penticton and St Gregory’s Church on Osoyoos Indian Band lands, both over 100 years old, were destroyed in fires within hours of each other on Monday morning, with Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigators treating both of the fires as suspicious.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said, according to broadcaster CBC: “There are people [in the band community] that have an intense hatred for the Catholic Church in regard to the residential school experience.”
Residential schools have been a major news story in Canada over the last several weeks following the discovery of what has been claimed to be graves of 215 children near a residential school in the city of Kamloops, British Columbia. In a further development this week, 751 more graves were found at another residential school in Saskatchewan.
Set up in the late 1800s, the residential school system aimed to forcibly assimilate aboriginal youth and many of its schools, including the Kamloops school, were run by the Roman Catholic Church, and later by the Canadian government. The Kamloops school opened in 1890 but was closed in 1978.
Students of residential schools have reported physical and sexual abuse in the past and a 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report stated that the residential schools went as far as a policy of “genocide” toward aboriginal people in Canada.
Bob Graham, chief of the volunteer fire department in the town of Oliver, stated that at least one of the fires on Monday showed signs of possible arson, saying: “We believe by looking at the scene and the surroundings that there was a liquid accelerant used … Early indications are that it was set.”
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So far, only one political party leader has made any mention of the church fires. Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leader Erin O’Toole wrote on Twitter: “My thoughts are with the Catholic community as this incident continues to be investigated. Violent and destructive attacks against any faith group in Canada are completely unacceptable.”
The fires come just weeks after another church caught fire on the Six Nations aboriginal reserve in Ontario on June 12th.
The 204-year-old St. John’s Anglican Church was seriously damaged as a result of the blaze, which at least one local said he suspected was an arson attack.
John Anderson, a local and member of the church, told aboriginal newspaper Turtle Island News that he suspected the fire was deliberate as gas (petrol) had been splashed through the church before the fire.
He added that, despite the church being Anglican rather than Catholic, that he suspected it might also be connected to the finding of the graves at the Kamloops school.
As part of the ongoing protests against residential schools, far-left extremist activists destroyed a statue of Ontario educator Egerton Ryerson, who is said to have inspired the residential school system, at Ryerson University in Toronto, toppling his statue and later beheading it.
The head of the statue of Ryerson later appeared on a spike in possession of activists of the 1492 Land Back Lane movement, which is protesting against plans to construct housing development on what they argue is unceded First Nations territory in Caledonia, Ontario.
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