OLIVER, British Columbia — Two Catholic churches on First Nations reserves in British Columbia have burned to the ground in overnight fires, Canada’s national police force said Monday.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said a patrol officer saw fire come from the Sacred Heart Church on the Penticton Indian Band reserve early Monday morning.
By the time the officer arrived on scene, police say the church was fully engulfed.
Less than two hours later, the RCMP in Oliver, British Columbia were called to St. Gregory’s Church, located on the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve.
They say police are liaising with both the Penticton and Osoyoos Indian Bands as part of the investigation.
The RCMP say both churches were destroyed and investigators are treating the fires as suspicious.
“Should our investigations deem these fires as arson, the RCMP will be looking at all possible motives and allow the facts and evidence to direct our investigative action,” Sgt. Jason Bayda says in the statement.
“We are sensitive to the recent events, but won’t speculate on a motive.”
The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation recently announced the discovery of what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. It operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he is “deeply disappointed” the Catholic Church has not offered a formal apology and made amends for its role in Canada’s former system of church-run Indigenous boarding schools.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools as an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society. The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.