Two more Catholic churches burned down in indigenous communities in western Canada early on Saturday.


The fires at St Ann’s Church and the Chopaka Church began within an hour of each other in British Columbia.


Officers said both buildings were completely destroyed, and they were treating the fires as “suspicious”.


Last Monday two other Catholic churches in the province were destroyed in fires, as Canada marked National Indigenous People’s Day.


“The investigations into the previous fires and these two new fires are ongoing with no arrests or charges,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt Jason Bayda said.


It comes after hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered at sites of former residential schools in Canada.


The government-funded compulsory schools were run by religious groups in the 19th and 20th centuries with the aim of assimilating indigenous youth.


Indigenous groups have demanded a nationwide search for more graves.


Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Keith Crow told public broadcaster CBC he had received a call early in the morning saying that the Chopaka Church was on fire. It had burned to the ground by the time he arrived half an hour later.


“I’m angry,” the chief told CBC. “I don’t see any positive coming from this and it’s going to be tough.”


Many in the community are Catholic Church members and are very upset about the blaze, he said.


In May, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a school in British Columbia.


They found them at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890 and closed in 1978.


And on Thursday, the Cowessess First Nation said it had found 751 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Saskatchewan. The Marieval Indian Residential School was also operated by the Roman Catholic Church.


Deaths in Canada’s compulsory boarding schools were due in large part to the squalid health conditions inside. Students were often housed in poorly built, poorly heated, and unsanitary facilities.


Between 1863 and 1998, more than 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in these schools throughout Canada.


A commission launched in 2008 to document the impact of this system found that large numbers of indigenous children had never returned to their home communities. The commission’s landmark report said the practice had amounted to cultural genocide.


The Canadian government has formally apologised for the system.


BBC News




Canada: Fire destroys two Catholic churches on indigenous land

Police in Canada say they are treating fires that destroyed two Catholic churches on indigenous community land in British Columbia as suspicious.


Sacred Heart Church and St Gregory’s Church burnt down at about the same time early on Monday, as Canada marked National Indigenous People’s Day.


The two churches – built more than 100 years ago – are located about 40km (25 miles) apart in the western province.


Liquid accelerants are believed to have been used, one fire official said.


The two churches on the Penticton Indian Band reserve and the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve are about 200km (125 miles) south of Kamloops, where the remains of 215 children were found at a former boarding school in May.


Thousands of indigenous children were sent to such schools in the 19th and 20th Centuries to be forcibly assimilated. The institutions were often run by the Roman Catholic Church.


Police in Penticton said an officer spotted the blaze at Sacred Heart Church at about 01:00 local time on Monday (08:00 GMT), but the building was engulfed when the officer arrived at the scene.


At about 03:10 local time, police in Oliver received reports that St Gregory’s Church was also on fire.


Both historic buildings burnt to the ground.


“We believe by looking at the scene and the surroundings that there was a liquid accelerant used,” Bob Graham, chief of the Oliver fire department, was quoted as saying by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.


“Early indications are that it was set,” he said.


In a statement, Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Sgt Jason Bayda said: “Should our investigations deem these fires as arson, the RCMP will be looking at all possible motives and allow the facts and evidence to direct our investigative action.”


“We are sensitive to the recent events, but won’t speculate on a motive,” he added.



BBC News