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July 6, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The head of a Canadian liberties group openly called for violence against Catholic parishes in a social media post after the discovery of unmarked graves at now-closed indigenous residential schools once run by the church.
“Burn it all down,” tweeted Harsha Walia, executive director of the British Columbia (B.C.) Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), on June 30 in response to a Vice News report on the burning of two Catholic churches.
Walia’s comments came the same day that the centuries-old St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alberta, was reduced to ashes in what police deemed a suspicious fire. There also was a report of a fire at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church in Sipekne'katik First Nation, Nova Scotia.
Many took to social media to show their disbelief that the head of a well-known organization would call for destruction.
“I don’t understand why the ED of the BC Civil Liberties Assoc is calling for violence. Violence and hate don’t appear to be solutions being proposed by Indigenous communities, and it is their voices we should be listening to and respecting on this matter,” tweeted Nico Slobinsky, with a link to a screenshot of Walia’s tweet.
Rebel News founder Ezra Levant shared a video post and quote clip of Jenn Allan-Riley, whose mom was a residential school survivor and said she recently spoke with Walia about her comments.
“‘Her behavior is keeping that spirit of hate going … what you said is so damaging and dangerous in this country.’ — Indigenous leader to the settler bigot @HarshaWalia, the disgraced leader of the pro-violence @bccla,” tweeted Levant.
According to a Global News report, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth thought Walia’s tweet crossed the line. He said it was “just disgusting and reprehensible that somebody who heads up an organization like that would make such comments,” and was “vile beyond belief.”
“It does nothing to bring about reconciliation. All it does is create conflict and division,” added Farnworth, as reported by Global News.
According to the Global News report, Walia further took to Twitter to claim that it was “totally ridiculous to suggest I am actively calling for arson,” adding that “yes, I do think deadly genocidal colonialism locally and globally needs to collapse.”
Walia’s Twitter account has since been locked and she has not responded to multiple media requests for comment, including from LifeSiteNews.
However, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) appeared to support Walia. The group has worked with the BCCLA on many files and said in a social media post that they stand “in strong solidarity with (Harsha Walia) in condemning the brutally gruesome genocide of residential ‘school’ system by Canada and Church while crown stole FN land.”
Global News reported that Chris Sankey, a Tsimshian First Nation entrepreneur and Indigenous relations consultant, said Walia should resign.
“You’re encouraging violence and hate and if that’s what you’re trying to do you have no business having any sort of platform whatsoever,” said Sankey.
“That’s not who we are as Indigenous people, that’s not who we are as British Columbians and that’s not who we are as Canadians and it needs to stop. Someone’s gonna get killed yet and that’s my biggest concern.”
On the BCCLA website, it says it is the “oldest and most active civil liberties and human rights group in Canada,” with many “pro bono” lawyers fighting court cases for “equality rights in relation to mental health, disability, gender, youth, immigration, refugees, race, poverty, LGBTQ2S+ rights, and more.”
More than 23 churches and counting
Intense media coverage of the unmarked graves at the now-closed Kamloops Indian Residential School located in British Columbia has resulted in at least 23 churches, most of them Catholic, having been either burned or vandalized.
Further discoveries of gravesites in Saskatchewan also made media headlines in late June. It was shortly after this news that attacks on Catholic churches intensified.
An online map posted by True North News shows the locations of all churches that have been burned or vandalized.
A total of five churches have been completely reduced to ashes, along with three being heavily damaged by flames. The remaining churches have been vandalized in some form, including 10 churches in Calgary, Alberta, that were damaged on Canada Day.
While Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has condemned the attacks on churches, it took Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau three weeks after the first churches were set ablaze to publicly comment on the attacks.
Trudeau said it was is “unacceptable and wrong” for churches to be burned, but said also it was “understandable.”
The Kamloops Indian Residential School was run by the Catholic Church from 1890 until 1969 and was closed by the federal government in 1977.
Although the residential school system was founded by the secular government in the 19th century, and then woefully underfunded by the state, and although different religious groups were asked to run the schools, the Catholic Church has borne the brunt of recent criticism.
Once the government mandated attendance at the schools in the 1920s, children were forcibly removed from their families and parents threatened with prison if they did not comply. Upon arrival at the school, children rarely saw their families, with many disappearing or never seeing their families again.
Catholic author Michael O’Brien, who attended residential schools and testified gave testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has previously told LifeSiteNews that the chief underlying issue in the residential school saga was the institutional abuse of children being removed from their families by the state authorities, and then taken to the schools, noting the “long-term psychological and social effects of this.”
Other elements to the residential school narrative often ignored by mainstream media are that, citing cost reasons, the Department of Indian Affairs refused to ship home the bodies of children who died at the government-mandated schools, meaning they had to buried there; high death rates and child mortality rates during the early 1900s; and that the Canadian government ignored an inspector’s warning in 1907 of that residential schools were home to “prime conditions” for “outbreak of epidemics.” (The inspector described the schools as being in a “defective sanitary condition” that included irregular exercise, insufficient ventilation – which was often closed during the winter for budget savings – and the admittance of students “already infected with contagious diseases.”)
Mortality rates for children under the age of five record 296.75 deaths per 1,000 births in 1900. That figure only dropped beneath 100 deaths per 1,000 births in 1935, with high rates of child mortality consistently seen from 1910 through 1920.
“Any discussion of death in childhood and the experience of children and families living with life-threatening medical problems has to be put in the context of child health as it has improved during the last century,” wrote the National Center for Biotechnology Information. As an example of this change in demographic mortality, in 1900, 30% of all deaths in the U.S were of children aged less than five years old, compared to just 1.9% in 1999.
In fact, such was the concern about Canada’s national infant mortality that Ontario politician Newton Rowell raised the matter before the House of Commons in 1919. Indeed, the First Nations people themselves have historically been noted to be less resilient against infectious diseases, such as influenza epidemics, measles, and smallpox.
A priest, who spoke to LifeSiteNews under condition of anonymity after the first two churches on indigenous land in British Columbia were set ablaze, said First Nations Catholics will suffer the loss of their churches and to “expect more” burnings to come.
The priest also stated why acts of vandalism against Catholic churches are not called out as hate crimes.
“Why is it when two Catholic churches are torched [as they just were], and it hits the news, the words are ‘police are investigating the cause … ’ but [when] a mosque or synagogue is burned, it’s a hate crime?” he asked, and then provided an answer: “It’s because there’s an unspoken prejudice that it’s OK that Catholics suffer.”