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Coptic Orthodox church burns down in Western Canada

St. George Coptic Orthodox Church

Mert Alper Dervis | ANADOLU AGENCY | AFP

John Burger - published on 07/20/21 - updated on 07/20/21

Someone was caught on camera last week trying to burn front door.

The latest victim of a string of church fires throughout Canada is a Coptic Orthodox church in Surrey, British Columbia.

The fire broke out at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church around 3:30 Tuesday morning. The local detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the church was the scene of an attempted arson last week, when a woman igniting a decoration on the front door was caught on a security camera.

“We will be investigating both of these incidents separately, and this time there is no indication that these two incidents are linked, but we will be looking very closely at both the circumstances,” Sgt. Elenore Sturko with the Surrey RCMP told CTV News.

Sturko acknowledged that police are aware that there have been other church fires since June, in the wake of renewed attention to the history of Canada’s residential school system, its treatment of Indigenous Peoples, and the involvement of Churches in the government-backed program.

“We don’t have any information to suggest [this] is related to any of those other incidents at this time, but our officers, and the Surrey Fire Service, are treating this as suspicious at this time,” Sturko said.

Medhat Elmasry, a church board member, said the church has been there since the 1990s and more than 380 families attend it. The church was also home to a daycare center.

“It feels really bad, because… it’s our life, our churches, our life. We spend a lot of time in our church,” Elmasry told CTV News. “I’m sure we’re all heartbroken at the moment.

He added that many of the items inside of the church are irreplaceable, such as saints’ relics.

Assuming the fire was deliberately set, Elmasry said he would ask the perpetrator, “What have you achieved? What did you do this for? You targeted a peaceful community, a peaceful church.”

A list of incidents so far:

  • June 21 (National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada), 1:30 a.m.: Sacred Heart Church on Penticton Indian Band land, British Columbia: burned to the ground.
  • June 21, 3 a.m.: St. Gregory’s Church on the Osoyoos Indian Band land in Oliver, British Columbia: burned to the ground.
  • June 26, 1 a.m.: St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Gitwangak First Nations land, British Columbia: minor damage by fire; later destroyed — see July 1. 
  • June 26, 3:52 a.m.: St. Ann’s Catholic Church on the Upper Similkameen Indian Band near Hedley, British Columbia: completely destroyed by fire. 
  • June 26, 4:45 a.m.: Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, Chopaka, British Columbia: completely destroyed by fire. 
  • June 27, overnight: Statue of Pope St. John Paul II at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Edmonton, Alberta: covered in red hand prints; red footprints tracked to the front door of the church. 
  • June 28, overnight: Siksika First Nation Catholic Church, Alberta: fire — extinguished before causing severe damage.
  • June 30, early morning hours: St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church in Morinville, just outside of Edmonton, Alberta: burned to the ground.
  • June 30: Cathedral of Mary Immaculate in Nelson, British Columbia: orange paint splashed on front entrance. 
  • July 1 (Canada Day), 12:30 a.m.: St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories: partly burned; minor damage. 
  • July 1: St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Gitwangak First Nations land, British Columbia: completely destroyed by fire. 
  • July 1: At least 11 churches in Calgary — many of them Catholic — vandalized with red paint, including paint splattered over a statue of Jesus, painted handprints on doors and text reading “Charge the priests” and “Our lives matter.” Also, a smashed church window, with paint thrown inside and the number 751 painted across a church sign — an apparent reference to the 751 unmarked graves identified at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School.
  • July 2, about 4 a.m.: Anglican church in Tofino, British Columbia: fire — extinguished after destroying part of a wall.
  • July 8, afternoon: Holy Trinity, an inactive Polish Catholic church near Redberry Lake, northwest of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: burned down. 
  • July 6, 9:45 p.m.: Our Lady of Mercy, an inactive Catholic church on Kehewin Cree Nation land in Northern Alberta. Destroyed. RCMP arrested an arson suspect, whose name was withheld because he is underage.
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