Liberal and NDP MPs swiftly struck down a committee motion on Tuesday by Conservative MP Arnold Viersen to condemn over 80 incidents of arson and vandalism targeting churches across Canada.
The motion, presented at the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee Oct. 24, aimed to denounce the arson and vandalism on the 83 churches across the country, extend condolences to affected communities, and call for justice against the perpetrators.
True North compiled a map featuring all of the incidents following the 2021 claim that over 200 suspected graves were discovered by ground penetrating radar near a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Viersen introduced a motion that the committee “condemn the arson attacks of over 80 churches across Canada; and in particular, extend their condolences to the community of Grouard and Kapawe’no First Nation with the loss of St. Bernard Church, one of the oldest churches in Alberta, a piece of history, the building that holds memories for generations of community members, and that the committee reaffirm freedom of religion and assembly and call on those responsible for these attacks to be brought to justice.”
Instead of adopting the motion, Liberal MP Jaime Battiste called for a vote to adjourn the debate which successfully passed, receiving seven votes in favour as opposed to four against.
“What has happened over the past few years with reconciliation and with churches and with the Pope coming to apologize, there’s a deep need for reflection and reconciliation, but I really want to get to the end of this study,” said Battiste.
“We’ve called to adjourn debate on this. I would like to call to adjourn debate on this if that’s what we can do, so we can hear the rest of the study, but if we have to, then I would rather discuss it in camera because it does have a way of triggering a lot of people who went through residential schools and the things they are going through.”
In a statement, Viersen called the decision to end the debate “shameful” and a disgrace to the memories of those affected.
“On Oct. 24, I introduced a motion at the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee where I serve as a member to condemn the arson attacks on over 80 churches across Canada, extend condolences to local affected communities, and call for the perpetrators to be brought to justice,” said Viersen in a statement.
“Unfortunately, a Liberal MP called for an immediate end to the discussion, supported by the NDP. This prevented the motion from going forward and communicating the committee’s condolences to hurting communities. This is shameful. These losses of church buildings have been devastating to these communities as these churches are places of milestones—weddings, funerals, baptisms.”
Many of the arson incidents targeted churches on First Nations territory, including St. Bernard Catholic Church in Grouard, Alberta which was completely engulfed in flames earlier this year as a result of an arson.
“In my community this past summer, Grouard, the St. Bernard church, one of the oldest churches in Alberta, was burned down. Community members were gathered there – many from Kapawe’no First Nation – remembered the funerals, the baptisms and the weddings that had taken place in that community,” said Viersen in a statement.