At least 10 Calgary churches defaced with red paint on Canada Day

At least 10 churches in Calgary have been defaced with red paint, following a national reckoning over the Catholic church's role in the residential school system.

'We know it's not personal to us necessarily,' says one parishioner

A statue of Jesus was covered with red paint outside of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Sunalta in southwest Calgary. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

At least 10 churches in Calgary have been defaced with red paint, following a national reckoning over the Catholic church's role in the residential school system.

Police say the places of worship were splashed with red paint or red handprints, and in one case a window was broken so paint could be tossed inside.

At one church, the phrases "we were children" and "our lives matter" were painted in red across the building's door. 

The vandalized churches are:

  • St. Bonaventure Catholic Church at 1600 Acadia Dr. S.E..
  • St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church at 819 13th Ave. S.W.
  • St. Mary's Cathedral at 219 18th Ave. S.W.
  • Sacred Heart Church and Columbarium at 1307 14th St. S.W.
  • Grace Presbyterian Church at 1009 15th Ave. S.W.
  • St. Luke's Parish at 1566 Northmount Dr. N.W.
  • Holy Trinity Church at 1525 45th St. S.E.
  • St. Anthony's Catholic Parish at 5340 Fourth St. S.W.
  • All Nations Full Gospel Church at 1403 Eighth Ave. S.E.
  • St. Joseph Catholic Church at 640 19th Ave. N.W.

Maria Shysh, a parishioner at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was not on the list of vandalized churches provided by the Calgary police, said red handprints and the number of children's remains found in unmarked graves at residential schools were painted across the front door and sign of the church. 

"We understood the message and of course we were saddened to hear that this had happened to our parish," Shysh said.

"We know it's not personal to us necessarily. We hurt with them and we understand that they're in pain. And all we can do is keep praying for those who perished and for healing to come on both sides."

In recent weeks, it's estimated that more than 1,000 unmarked grave sites have been located at former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

The Catholic church operated more than half of all residential schools in Canada between 1831 and 1996, as well as many day schools.

  • WATCH | Renewed push for Catholic Church to compensate residential school survivors.

Renewed push for Catholic Church to compensate residential school survivors

1 year ago
Duration 1:57
Residential school survivors accuse the Catholic Church of failing to live up to its promise to raise $25 million in compensation for pain, suffering and abuse, even while it successfully raises tens of millions of dollars for brand-new churches. Survivors in Saskatchewan call it a betrayal, and proof that the Catholic Church does not take its responsibilities to Indigenous people seriously.

The Roman Catholic Church is the only institution that has not yet formally apologized for its part in running residential schools in Canada after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves, although some local dioceses have expressed regret. Pope Francis has expressed sympathy and his "closeness to traumatized Canadians" but has not apologized to Indigenous people for the church's role.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations has called for the church to release its records of the schools so the United Nations can conduct an investigation. 

Other churches across the province and country have been vandalized or damaged by what are suspected to deliberately set fires. 

On Wednesday, St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, about 40 kilometres north of Edmonton, was destroyed by fire. Two fires were started at churches on Siksika First Nation land this week, but damage was minimal.

Volunteers work to clean up the exterior of a northeast Calgary Catholic church after it was vandalized with red paint. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Shysh said she hopes the Canadian government and the Catholic church will work together, and will hopefully provide more disclosure and transparency to work toward healing. 

"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," the Calgary Police Service said in an emailed release.

Police say the service is committed to working toward reconciliation and ensuring that the generational trauma of the residential school system is addressed in policing, but that it's important to work together to find a path forward. 

"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. 

Police say its hate crime unit is involved in the investigation, as all of the vandalized churches are part of the Christian faith. 

Premier Jason Kenney wrote in a tweet that the vandalism is "appalling," and pointed out that one of the targeted churches — All Nations Full Gospel Church — has a congregation largely made up of new Canadians. 

"These folks came to Canada with the hope that they could practise 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 and reconciliation instead," Kenney wrote.

Shelagh Toole said during mass at Sacred Heart on Thursday she and others prayed for the person or persons who vandalized the building.

She said her parents were married at the church and she was baptized there, and that the community has been an anchor for many during the pandemic. 

"My heart is broken. I know there's a lot of woundedness in the world," she said.

"People can't always manage their hurts, their woundedness … I think I'd just say, we forgive you, we love you."

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

With files from Julie Debeljak