Church fire on Sipekne'katik First Nation deemed suspicious, say RCMP

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A fire that broke out overnight at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church on Sipekne’katik First Nation damaged the Katilin Healing and Cultural Centre that is attached to the church. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
A fire that broke out overnight at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church on Sipekne’katik First Nation damaged the Katilin Healing and Cultural Centre that is attached to the church. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

RCMP say a fire at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church on Sipekne'katik First Nation is suspicious.

Police spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall said Indian Brook RCMP as well as the local fire department were dispatched to the church on Church Street on the reserve, about 65 kilometres northeast of Halifax, at 4:20 a.m. local time.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

A spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth said the Katilin Healing and Cultural Centre, which is attached to the church, was damaged, but no one was injured.

"Archbishop Dunn visited the site this morning and asks we keep everyone involved in our prayers," John Stevens said in a statement.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Photos of the scene show damaged cladding, studs and insulation on the building. The damaged area is very close to oil tanks on the exterior.

The fire marshal is now on scene to begin investigating the cause of the blaze.

Marshall said he doesn't know why the fire was deemed suspicious, but that the determination is often made if accelerants are located at the scene, or if witness statements or surveillance video indicate suspicious circumstances.

Investigators will be speaking with community members and canvassing for surveillance video from people who live in nearby homes or work at nearby businesses as part of their investigation.

Other recent church fires in Canada

Fires have broken out at several churches — mostly Roman Catholic churches in First Nations communities — in recent weeks, including two in Okanagan, B.C., two others in the B.C. Interior, one in northwestern B.C., and two in Alberta, including one north of Edmonton and one on Siksika First Nation.

In all those cases, police are treating the fires as suspicious.

Marshall said the fires at churches in Western Canada are "something that our investigators will certainly be aware of when they're conducting this investigation."

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

The fires come in the wake of an announcement by the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan of the preliminary discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School.

An announcement by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia last month revealed that a preliminary scan near the former residential school in Kamloops indicated the remains of more than 200 children could be buried at the site.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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