Surveillance footage captured a woman igniting the front door of a Coptic Orthodox church in Surrey, British Columbia, last week, just five days before a larger fire finally burned it to the ground Monday.
“The suspect is described as Caucasian, five feet seven inches tall and heavy-set with dark hair. The woman was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, a black tank top, black tights with a flower print, and black flip flops,” according to local outlet Peace Arch News (PAN). “Investigators are asking anyone with information related to either of these investigations to contact the Surrey RCMP (604-599-0502) or Crime Stoppers (www.solvecrime.ca, 1-800-222-TIPS).”
Breaking: Police have confirmed that there was an arson attempt last week at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey, British Columbia. The Church was destroyed by a fire early this morning. pic.twitter.com/2CIDNGLnHz
— PM Breaking News (@PMBreakingNews) July 19, 2021
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Sgt. Elenore Sturko said Tuesday that police do not yet have enough evidence to link the woman in the video to the second fire that ravaged the building on July 19, but they are treating both incidents as suspicious.
“We’re saying at this time there is no evidence connecting either of these incidents, so the fire that destroyed the church on the 19th and the arson to those sort-of flowers on the front door, they’re both suspicious events and concerning, but at this time there is no evidence that they’re connected but we do want to find out the identity of that woman who lit that fire on the 14th,” Sturko said.
“There is no evidence at this time that links this fire at the church to any other incidents throughout the city or across the province but we’ll be doing a full investigation and we’ll allow the evidence to lead us in the proper direction.”
“We are still in a state of shock, mourning,” said Father Bisenty Gerges. “It’s unpredictable what the future will be. I think we will rent a place.”
Gerges, who provided the surveillance footage to the police, also said he trusts the authorities to find whoever is responsible. “We leave the investigations to the authorities, we trust them,” he said.
St. George Coptic Orthodox Church is the latest Christian house of worship to fall victim to the dozens of church arson attacks that have swept Canadian provinces in recent weeks after hundreds of unmarked indigenous graves were discovered at the sites of residential schools in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and British Columbia.
The attacks have encompassed several Christian traditions ranging from Roman Catholics and Anglicans to Vietnamese Protestants.
The Coptic Orthodox Church traces its history to St. Mark’s missionary journey to Alexandria, Egypt, during the first century. One member of the church said the attack reminded her of the persecution Christians face in the Muslim-majority country she fled.
As PAN further reported:
Nancy Yacoub, a member of St. George’s since she emigrated to Canada from Egypt in 1982, was among about 200 mourners who attended a vigil at the smouldering ruin on Monday night. “My heart was so broken,” she said.
Yacoub said Monday’s fire is bringing back bad memories from Egypt. “It’s a shock.”
“It’s definitely hate,” she said, “nothing more than hate, someone who is extremely hateful.”
She said she’s disappointed with politicians who haven’t spoken out against the fire. “I think being quiet or being silent is encouraging this hate to come out, because nobody is blaming this hate, nobody is saying ‘stop it.’”
“I believe it’s politics. Bad politics are taking [its] toll on us, everybody, everyone.”
Canadian journalist Ezra Levant recently told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the ongoing arson attacks threaten to plunge the country toward the sort of systematic persecution that afflicted Jewish people in pre-war Nazi Germany.