RCMP have opened an investigation into an overnight fire at a Yellowknife Roman Catholic church, saying while the cause remains undetermined, the circumstances indicate possible criminality.
Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith Jon Hansen said the fire was “intentionally started” at St Patrick Co-Cathedral on 52 Street. Nobody was hurt but police said the building “sustained minor damage.”
Police dogs and a forensics team have been working at the scene.
Images from inside the church show burned walls and pews surrounded by ash next to a broken window.
Though what happened to start the fire was not immediately confirmed, suspicious fires have been reported at both Catholic and Anglican churches across Canada since the recent discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
“Due to the damage done to other religious buildings across the country, the RCMP is treating this fire as suspicious in nature and have started a criminal investigation,” read a statement from the Yellowknife detachment late on Thursday morning.
Police asked any witnesses who saw what happened or have relevant video footage to come forward. The fire began at around 12:30am on Thursday.
“We are all aware of the tragedy of the residential school system unfolding across our country. This incident is concerning for our community in Yellowknife,” said Insp Dyson Smith, commander of the Yellowknife detachment, in a statement.
“We must be clear, acts of vandalism are criminal acts and those who endanger life and property will be held accountable by law.”
The City of Yellowknife’s fire division and the NWT’s fire marshal have been approached for comment.
“Most of the damage is related to smoke and fire suppression activities,” said Bishop Hansen. “There does not appear to be any damage to the building structure or the roof.
“We are still waiting for information about next steps and will provide updates as soon as information is available.”
The Prime Minister earlier called for attacks on churches to cease as hundreds of unmarked graves continue to be uncovered at former residential school sites across Canada.
“Destroying places of worship” is “not the way to go,” Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.
The same day, the Lower Kootenay Band said 182 human remains had been found at a former residential school site in Cranbrook, BC.
Thursday has been repurposed by many NWT communities to focus on mourning the dead and remembering the impact of colonialism and residential schools rather than celebrating Canada Day.