Suspected arsonists torched a Protestant Vietnamese church in Calgary, Alberta, on Sunday, in the latest attack against Canadian Christians following the discovery of unmarked indigenous graves at residential school sites once run by the Catholic Church.
The Calgary Vietnamese Alliance Church, a congregation made up mostly of refugees from southeast Asia, suffered extensive damage to its sanctuary during the blaze.
“We are refugees with no means. We escaped from Vietnam to come here to get more freedom, to live and we think it was a good country — and now it happened to our church,” Pastor Thai Nguyen told The Counter Signal on Monday.
Sunday was the first Sunday that the church was legally allowed to gather in person since Alberta entered into Stage 3 of its mandatory COVID-19 rules on July 1. A visibly discouraged Nguyen explained that since their building has been burned, they have been forced back online.
Referring both to the arson attacks and the government lockdowns, he added, “Maybe it is not safe to be here in Canada compared to Vietnam.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, whose province bears the distinction of having jailed more Christian pastors than any other democratic country, condemned the church attacks, tweeting, “Another appalling arson attack on an Alberta Church. The Alliance House of Prayer has congregations of Vietnamese & Filipino Canadians. Many of the Vietnamese came here as refugees. These acts of hatred targeting the diverse Christian community must end.”
Another appalling arson attack on an Alberta Church. The Alliance House of Prayer has congregations of Vietnamese & Filipino Canadians. Many of the Vietnamese came here as refugees.
These acts of hatred targeting the diverse Christian community must end.https://t.co/RlHxoHjKCu
— Jason Kenney (@jkenney) July 5, 2021
Several churches have been burned and some completely destroyed in Canada since hundreds of unmarked indigenous graves have been discovered at sites of residential schools in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and British Columbia.
The residential school program, for which Canadian churches and politicians have since apologized, was a government-funded program in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that forced indigenous children into boarding schools to assimilate them to Canadian culture. For a time they were run by Christian churches.
Some indigenous Canadians who were involved in the residential school program condemned the attacks. As the CBC reported:
During a news conference Monday, residential school survivor Jessie Malcolm condemned the vandalism while fighting back tears.
“It’s not going to bring back anybody,” she said.
Jenn Allan-Riley, a Sixties Scoop survivor and the daughter of a residential school survivor, said the acts of vandalism are sowing discord between Indigenous people and the rest of Canada.
“Burning down churches is not in solidarity with us Indigenous people,” Allan-Riley told the news conference.
“Whoever is doing this, you’re going to wake up a very ugly, evil spirit in this country,” she said.
Ten instances of suspected church vandalism occurred in the Calgary area on Canada Day last week, the holiday that marks the Dominion of Canada’s establishment in 1867. The suspected crimes prompted a statement from the Calgary Police, who also offered commentary on the residential school program.
Officers are investigating vandalism at 10 churches.
We must never forget residential schools are a part of our legacy that destroyed the lives of so many Indigenous families. But vandalism like this only creates further division, fear and destruction.https://t.co/ufMGOlJ4X6
— Calgary Police (@CalgaryPolice) July 1, 2021
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