A Coptic Orthodox church in the city of Surrey, British Columbia, was burned to the ground on Monday morning in a suspicious fire and is just the latest suspected church arson in Canada since the start of June.
The St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey, BC, was destroyed after a fire, which could allegedly be seen for miles, broke out at the church at around 3:30 am on Monday, leaving just one wall standing.
The Surrey detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) says that the fire is regarded as suspicious and released information that another alleged arson incident had taken place less than a week before Monday’s incident, City News 1130 reports.
BREAKING: A church in Surrey's Whalley neighbourhood is completely destroyed after a fire broke out this morning. Video courtesy: Daksh Morada Read more: https://t.co/2HJLPBO5w8 pic.twitter.com/BBMhn01MiG
— Claire Fenton (@Ceeceefenton) July 19, 2021
The RCMP also released a photograph of an alleged suspect connected to an arson incident at the church on July 14th, describing her as an overweight white female, 5’7″ tall with dark hair.
The woman was caught on CCTV setting several fires at the entrance of the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church at around 2:30 am before fleeing. RCMP say they are investigating both incidents but have not confirmed they are linked.
Medhat El Masry, a member of the church for over 25 years, said: “Today, for me, is a day of mourning for my church.”
He added: “It’s catastrophic for me.”
According to El Masry, at least 400 families attended the church and said he believed the fire had been deliberate arson.
“I think it’s arson and I think it has probably to do with the burning of churches that’s happening around the country, where there is no distinction between one type of church or another type of church,” he said.
“There are relics of saints that are totally priceless. That must have gone in these flames. You cannot recover those,” he said and addressed the alleged arsonist saying: “My message is, you know, what have you achieved? What did you do this for? You targeted a peaceful community, a peaceful church.”
Ten churches in Alberta were vandalized in a single day as Canada continues to see churches burned to the ground in several provinces. https://t.co/ZsMMLtsLdk
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) July 3, 2021
Since the alleged finding of 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops in May, at least 47 churches across Canada have been attacked, vandalised, or burnt to the ground.
Some of the burned churches have been located on First Nations territories and are thought to be linked to the discovery of unmarked residential school graves in parts of Canada.
The residential school system started in the late 1800s and forcibly attempted to assimilate First Nations children. Many were run by the Catholic Church or the Canadian government.
A 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report claimed the documented and reported abuses in residential schools went as far as “genocide”.
"Burn the churches down" said radio host Nesta Matthews https://t.co/54K28KOrS9
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) July 3, 2021
Many of the churches burned down on First Nations reserves were also used by First Nations people themselves, and some have expressed sorrow over the burnings.
“When my children seen that they were just so heartbroken, because they have so many memories in that church,” Rosealene Daniels said after the 108-year-old St Paul’s Anglican Church was destroyed earlier this month in Gitwangak First Nations land in British Columbia.
While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has condemned the church burnings, he also stated the anger towards the Catholic Church was “fully understandable”.
— Chris Tomlinson (@TomlinsonCJ) July 5, 2021
Others, such as now-former executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) Harsha Walia, have not condemned the burnings but rather the opposite.
Earlier this month, Walia commented on an article about Catholic church burnings stating: “Burn it all down.” Many criticised Walia and it was revealed last week that she has resigned as executive director of the civil liberties group.