Church vandalism, toppled statues on a Canada Day of celebration and protest
TORONTO -- Several churches were vandalized and statues of Queens Elizabeth II and Victoria were toppled on a Canada marked by muted national celebrations, as well as marches and protests over the country’s history of residential schools and recent discoveries of more than 1,000 unmarked graves.
Ten churches in Calgary were vandalized overnight and in the early hours of the July 1 holiday, Calgary Police said in a statement on Thursday. Orange and red paint, in some places spattered and in other places in the shape of handprints, covered parts of the church exteriors, police said, as well as the number ‘215’, referring to discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops B.C. a month ago.
“Given the harm this chapter of our history has caused to Indigenous people in our community, it is understandable that emotions and tensions are running high,” Calgary Police Service said in a statement. “However, we also all need to join together as a community to come to terms with our past and find a path forward to reconciliation. Vandalism like this is not just illegal; it serves to create further division, fear and destruction in our city.“
The discovery in Kamloops, followed by the finding of 751 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Marieval, Saskatchewan and the discovery of 182 human remains near a former residential school in Cranbrook, B.C. have led to a national soul-searching in Canada over the legacy of the country’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples, and the role of the Catholic church in administering the residential school system.
In Winnipeg, protesters toppled a statue of Queen Victoria outside the Manitoba Legislative Building, with photos showing it lying on its side, covered in red and orange paint. Video posted on social media shows protesters chanting ‘no pride in genocide’ as it lay on the ground. Nearby, a statue of Queen Elizabeth II was pulled down at Government House. The toppling of the statues drew a rebuke from a British government spokesperson.
The protest in Manitoba was just one of many across the country on Thursday, including a massive march through the streets of Toronto.
In Victoria, which chose to cancel its Canada Day celebrations, activists knocked down a statue of Captain James Cook – the first English explorer to reach the west coast of what is now British Columbia – and threw it into the city’s inner harbour.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the anger many are feeling across the country.
“Even as I was speaking with people who chose to wear red and white yesterday instead of orange they were reflecting on how their fellow citizens are hurting, how we need to respect and understand that not everyone felt like celebrating yesterday,” he told reporters. “Celebrating was the last thing on the minds of many many people in this country for whom we need to do better.”
The church vandalism incidents follow a recent string of fires at several churches, many of them Catholic churches in First Nations communities in B.C. and Alberta.
These included two fires in the early hours of June 30, one at a church on the Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, and another in Morinville, Alberta, which prompted the community to cancel its Canada Days celebrations.
Indigenous leaders have been quick to condemn the church burnings. “To burn things is not our way,” Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey also asked members to not take action against churches, as they are evidence of past crimes.
“In your communities where you have these churches, we are asking you to refrain from vigilante actions against the church buildings,” he said.