'Unacceptable and wrong': Trudeau condemns attacks on churches

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today condemned the wave of vandalism and arson attacks targeting Catholic churches across Canada, saying it's not the solution to the trauma caused by residential schools.

Federal government has renewed funding to provide security for religious sites

Firefighters work to douse hotspots in the rubble of St. Jean Baptiste Parish Catholic church in Morinville, Alta, on Wednesday June 30, 2021. The RCMP said officers were called to the blaze at the church, about 40 kilometres north of Edmonton, just after 3 a.m. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today condemned the wave of vandalism and arson attacks targeting Catholic churches across Canada, saying it's not the solution to the trauma caused by residential schools.

Speaking to reporters after touring an Ottawa vaccination clinic, Trudeau said there has been "a rise of intolerance and racism and hatred that we're seeing across the country."

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

Trudeau said he understands the anger felt by many across the country since several First Nations reported finding unmarked graves at former residential school sites — but setting fire to churches is wrong.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned arson attacks against churches during a news conference in Ottawa, on Friday, July 2, 2021. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

"I can't help but think that burning down churches is actually depriving people who are in need of grieving and healing and mourning (of) places where they can actually grieve and reflect and look for support," Trudeau said.

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

Trudeau's comments come after churches in different parts of the country have been burned or spray painted with messages related to the recent discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools.

'The anger ... is real'

The federal government recently renewed funding for the Security Infrastructure Program, which works with religious institutions to upgrade security. In the 2020 Fall Economic Statement, the government announced plans to spend $13 million on the program over the next five years.

Trudeau said he understands the anger in Canada's Indigenous communities.

"The anger ... is real," he said. "People have gone decades and even generations living with intergenerational trauma, with outcomes and institutional racism that has created extreme difficulties for Indigenous peoples across this country that are also the legacy of residential schools.

"I certainly wish we could have finished with reconciliation in five or six years," he said. "We have done an awful lot as a government to set down that path of reconciliation but there is an incredible amount still to do.

"What took generations and centuries to break in terms of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, it will take more than just a few years to fix it all."

Alfred Higginbottom, of the Skuppah Indian Band, a Nlaka'pamux First Nations government, rides off on his motorcycle after stopping to watch a wildfire burn on the side of a mountain in Lytton, B.C., Thursday, July 1, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau held his news conference today as several towns in British Columbia are being threatened by wildfires.

The prime minister said the federal government is working with British Columbia and First Nations to provide help to those communities.

"We're going to be there to support people getting through this incredibly difficult time of loss, of devastation," he said. "We're going to be there to help rebuild."

Trudeau warned that Canada is experiencing more extreme weather events, like floods and forest fires, and those threats will persist unless the country addresses climate change.

Asked about the risk that new rules going into effect next week — which will relieve fully vaccinated travellers returning to Canada of the requirement to quarantine — could result in a rise in COVID-19 cases, Trudeau said he's confident border officials can handle the situation.

He refused to give any hints of when he is prepared to open Canada's border to Americans, however.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca


Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.