British Columbia

Overnight fires at 2 Anglican churches in B.C. deemed suspicious

A 108-year-old church on Gitwangak First Nation land near New Hazelton was completely destroyed on Thursday night, according to RCMP, while a blaze at a church in Tofino destroyed part of a wall.

Church near New Hazelton completely destroyed, Tofino church sustained minimal damage

A fire late on July 1 destroyed an Anglican church near New Hazelton in northern B.C. (Submitted by Chasity Daniels)

Fires at two Anglican churches in B.C. overnight have been deemed suspicious by RCMP.

The churches near New Hazelton and in Tofino are the latest of several that have been set on fire in the province. 

A 108-year-old church on Gitwangak First Nation land near New Hazelton was completely destroyed on Thursday night, according to RCMP Sgt. Chris Manseau. 

That same church was damaged in a suspicious fire last week

Chasity Daniels, former chief of the Gitwangak First Nation, was driving past the St. Paul's Anglican Church around 10:30 p.m. PT when she spotted flames. 

St. Paul's Anglican Church ablaze late Thursday. The RCMP is concerned about the increase in church fires in B.C., as wildfire conditions are extreme and, if sparks fly, the fire could become widespread. (Submitted by Chasity Daniels)

"Anyone who would have done that did wrong because it wasn't a Catholic Church, it was an Anglican Church and there's nothing but good memories in that church for our community," she said. 

She said members of the Gitwangak First Nation helped build the church. 

A church in Tofino was also set ablaze at about 4 a.m. PT on Friday. The fire destroyed part of a wall, but was extinguished before any more damage was done.

Both fires are under investigation by the RCMP. 

Manseau said the fires are of significant concern as the province is currently under extreme wildfire risk. 

"We have wildfires burning around the province, we have an entire town that was lost to a wildfire," he said, referring to Lytton, B.C., noting that fires like this could lead to something more widespread. 

The RCMP are asking anyone with information about the fires to contact their local RCMP detachment. 

The aftermath of a July 1 fire that completely destroyed the St. Paul's Anglican Church on Gitwangak First Nation land. (Submitted by Chasity Daniels)

'Unacceptable and wrong': Prime Minister

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the wave of vandalism and arson attacks targeting churches across Canada.

"It is unacceptable and wrong that acts of vandalism and arson are being seen across the country, including against Catholic churches," he said.

The Anglican church on Gitwangak First Nation land was destroyed by a suspicious fire on Thursday night, just days after being damaged in another fire. (Ivan Bundy/Facebook)

While he recognized the anger that many have felt since several First Nations have reported finding unmarked graves at former residential school sites, he said it's not the solution to the trauma caused by the residential school system.

"We shouldn't be lashing out at buildings that can provide solace to some of our fellow citizens," Trudeau said.

"But we should be, every day, committing ourselves, each and every one of us, to the hard work that we need to do to actually rebuild a path forward that reflects the terrible intergenerational trauma and present day realities of suffering that we are all collectively responsible for."

With files from Yvette Brend and Elizabeth Thompson