CALGARY — Police say ten churches in Calgary were vandalized with red and orange paint — acts investigators believe are a response to the recent discoveries of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools.
Most, although not all, of the churches were Catholic, and in one case a window was smashed and paint was thrown inside the church.
Police say handprints, the number “215” and other markings are what make them think the vandalism is related to the residential schools.
Vandalism as well as fires have occurred at numerous Catholic churches in Canada following last month’s discovery of what’s believed to be the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.
More suspected graves at other former residential schools have since been found in Saskatchewan, as well as at the Lower Kootenay Band in B.C.
More than 60 per cent of residential schools were run by the Catholic Church.
“Vandalism like this is not just illegal it serves to create further division, fear and destruction in our city. We need to find the people responsible, both to hold them accountable and to prevent further divisive incidents,” police said in a news release Thursday.
Police noted in the release that the residential school system is a “very dark part of our history” and that given the harm they did to Indigenous people, it’s understandable that emotions and tensions are running high.
However, the release also noted the Calgary Police Service is committed to doing its part in the reconciliation effort and “ensuring that the generational trauma of the residential school system is properly addressed in policing.”
Police said they’re examining evidence and are looking for video that could help with their investigation. They said their Hate Crime and Extremism Unit is also involved in the cases since the locations were all Christian churches.
In the most recent church fires Wednesday, St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alta. was destroyed and a Catholic church at a First Nation in Nova Scotia was damaged.
Four small Catholic churches on Indigenous lands in rural southern British Columbia were also destroyed by suspicious fires and a vacant former Anglican church in northwestern B.C. was recently damaged in what RCMP said could be arson.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the vandalism in Calgary “appalling” and said that one of the churches was an African Evangelical Church. He tweeted a photo of red and orange handprints on the church’s doors, noting that many of the congregation came to Canada as refugees where churches are vandalized and burned.
“These folks came to Canada with the hope that they could practice their faith peacefully. Some of them are traumatized by such attacks. This is where hatred based on collective guilt for historic injustices leads us. Let’s seek unity, respect & reconciliation instead,” Kenney wrote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2021.