RCMP are investigating what they’re deeming a suspicious fire at the St. Patrick Co-Cathedral catholic church in Yellowknife.
The fire broke out shortly after midnight Thursday. The building sustained minor damage. No one was injured.
There have been a number of recent fires at churches throughout Canada following the discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites of children’s remains adjacent to a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
In a news release, police in Yellowknife say due to the damage done to other religious buildings across the country, they’re treating the fire as suspicious and have launched a criminal investigation.
“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 RCMP Commander Insp. Dyson Smith in a statement.
The cause of the fire isn’t yet known, though a statement from the diocese that oversees the church suggested it involved an incendiary device. Police are asking anyone with information to contact them.
‘Saddened by the news’
Bishop Jon Hansen of the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese, which oversees the church, released a statement on its website.
“On July 1st, shortly after midnight, a fire was deliberately set by an incendiary device placed through a broken window of St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral in Yellowknife,” it read.
“Thanks to good neighbours, the smoke from the fire was quickly spotted and the fire department responded and were able to contain the fire to a small area of the church.
“The faith community of St. Patrick’s are being informed of the damage to their church and will no doubt be very saddened by the news. The tentative plan for weekend masses is that they will take place outdoors, weather permitting, in the parking lot of the church.
“We are fully aware that this fire is one of many similar events that have taken place across Canada so we simply ask people to pray for peace.”
Hansen later changed his statement, removing the reference of an incendiary device.
“The Fire Marshal’s office are calling the fire attempted arson. For more details about the fire it is recommended to contact the fire department or the RCMP,” it read. Emails to N.W.T.’s Office of the Fire Marshall and the RCMP were not immediately returned.
Hansen declined an interview with CBC News, but said a stained glass window above the damaged window depicting the last station of the cross had to be removed by fire crews when they responded to the fire.
Inside the church, the smell of smoke lingered in the air. A number of pews were charred, and sections of the church’s white walls were black from smoke damage.
Pieces of broken glass from the window where the fire apparently started lay on the floor. Crews from Northern Disaster Services, a restoration company based in Yellowknife, cleaned up the debris.