| 23 February 2024, Friday |

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 less than 100km from 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.