Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday (Jul 2) condemned the burning and vandalism of Catholic churches that has followed discovery of unmarked graves and former schools for Indigenous children.
Several Catholic churches built on indigenous land have recently been vandalized following the discovery of more than 1,100 unmarked graves at the sites of three Catholic Church-run residential schools run by the church in British Columbia and Saskatchewan that generations of Indigenous children had been forced to attend.
Canada also witnessed a series of attacks on Thursday — Canada Day — on statues of Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and other historical figures.
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 indigenous children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.
Canada's residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families, constituted "cultural genocide," a six-year investigation had found in 2015.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined that the residential schools were a system of "cultural genocide". It concluded that at least 4,100 students died while attending the schools, many of them due to abuse, negligence, disease, or accident.
The report highlighted in a great detail the horrific physical abuse, rape, malnutrition and other atrocities suffered by many of the 150,000 children who attended the schools, typically run by Christian churches on behalf of Ottawa from the 1840s to the 1990s.
Justin Trudeau Condemns Church Burning
“It is unacceptable and wrong that acts of vandalism and arson are being seen across the country, including against Catholic churches,” PM Trudeau informed reporters.
“It’s real and it is fully understandable given the shameful history we are all become more aware of,” Trudeau added
“I can’t help but think that burning down churches is actually depriving people who are in need of grieving and healing and mourning from places where they can grieve and reflect and look for support.” Trudeau said.
Trudeau, himself a Catholic, said he understands the anger many people feel toward the federal government and Catholic church. The government has apologized for the schools and Trudeau has called on Pope Francis, too, to make a formal apology.