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At least 33 churches razed to the ground es by flames in Canada since May 2021

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A church on fire in Fort Chipewyan, in northern Alberta, in August 2022. The more than century-old building was completely destroyed. (Archive photo)

Radio-Canada

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Police reports, Court records and media accounts compiled by CBC identify at least 33 churches destroyed by fires in Canada between May 2021 and December 2023.

According to CBC, investigators have determined that at least 24 of those 33 churches were deliberately burned after May 2021, two burned accidentally, and the rest are still under investigation.

Eleven churches were destroyed by arson attacks in Western Canada in the weeks following revelations of the discovery of 215 potential unmarked burials at the site of a former Indigenous residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

About half of the burned churches reviewed by CBC were Catholic, but Anglican, Evangelical Christian and United Church churches also had their places of worship taken by the flames.

The churches burned were mainly on reserves or on the territory of First Nations and small rural municipalities with 14 and 13 fires respectively.

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The Most of these fires have not been elucidated. Of the thirty churches that have fallen prey to flames since 2021, only nine have resulted in arrests.

According to Corporal Troy Savinkoff of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta, police have been unable to clearly determine the motives behind the incendiary acts in the province, despite potential leads.

It seems that the motivations of these individuals are varied, he said. They come from all walks of life and from very different contexts.

Mental health appears to be a determining factor. Alcohol or drug abuse appears to be a factor. However, I have not seen a [case] where we could clearly discern true motivation.

A quote from Troy Savinkoff, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Those facing charges, however, continue to find themselves before the courts.

For example, two men aged 19 and 26 were charged after a fire destroyed a Catholic church in the community of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. Their trial is scheduled for spring.

In another case, a 35-year-old woman was sentenced to four years in prison for burning down a church in Surrey, British Columbia. She justified her action by conflict with her partner, mental illness and drug use.

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Stuffed animals and shoes hang on a fence in Kamloops, British Columbia, in memory of children who attended residential schools.

Indigenous and political leaders have pointed to anger over residential schools to explain the surge in ;charred churches after the Kamloops discoveries.

Destroying the history of others does nothing to build our own, Perry Bellegarde, then chief of the Assembly of First Nations, declared in 2021.

“We must resist the temptation of violence and turn to […] everything that our elders taught us about peaceful coexistence and mutual respect,” he added.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">At that time, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also commented on this phenomenon: This is not the way to go. The destruction of places of worship is unacceptable and must stop.

Yet the incendiary acts have still not stopped and Paulina Johnson, a researcher of the University of Alberta and a member of the Maskwacis First Nation, says he understands why.

It's on fire because no one is really interested in the truth, she says. This is not to say that these fires are justified, but they symbolize a larger reality.

Paulina Johnson also states that Indigenous people have been silenced for a long time, and that they sometimes find their voice in a destructive way, because for a long time, Canada never really recognized us.

< em>With information from Terry Reith

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