A Roman Catholic church in New Westminster was hit with graffiti over the weekend.
St. Peter’s Church on Royal Avenue was targeted with orange spray paint that includes the words “Baby killers,” “killers” and “You’re guilty” – in a clear reference to the ongoing discovery of the graves of hundreds of children at former residential schools across Canada.
The white exterior of the church building, which has been a landmark at the corner of Fourth Street since its construction in 1939, was also splattered with orange and red paint.
The vandalism comes against the backdrop of a wider series of incidents targeting Catholic churches around B.C. since Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc first announced the discovery of 215 children buried in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Since then, hundreds more such graves have been found across Canada, and searches are underway at numerous other school sites.
St. Peter’s has a historical link to the residential school system, in that the local parish was founded in 1860 by Father Leon Fouquet of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate – a religious order that operated 48 residential schools in Canada, including Kamloops. The Oblates also operated Marieval Indian Residential School in Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, where as many as 751 unmarked graves have been discovered, and St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School in Cranbrook, where another 182 unmarked graves were found.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate has since agreed to expedite access to residential school records to help in the process of identifying the children, as the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation reported on July 5.
The New Westminster church remains under the spiritual direction of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate today.
Some of the paint sprayed on the church references OMI, indicating the vandal or vandals were aware of the connection.
The incident, which was first reported by Global BC yesterday, is the first such case noted in New Westminster.
But it’s far from an isolated case in the Lower Mainland.
Last week, the Vancouver Police Department reported that it’s investigating 13 incidents of mischief and vandalism at churches and church properties since June 2 – with incidents including rocks being thrown through windows, buildings being defaced with paint and threats being made to burn down churches.
A suspicious fire also levelled St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey last week.
The New Westminster Police Department confirmed the St. Peter's incident was reported to police on Sunday, July 25.
“We’re working to find the people responsible for this and hold them accountable,” said media spokesperson Sgt. Sanjay Kumar in a press release. “We’re asking anyone who witnessed this vandalism or knows who may have been responsible for it to contact the New Westminster Police Department.”
Officers documented the vandalism and canvassed the immediate area for CCTV footage to help identify the people responsible, the release said. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the New Westminster Police Department at 604-525-5411.
The Record has called St. Peter’s Church for comment. This story will be updated if and when new information becomes available.
SUPPORT FOR THOSE AFFECTED BY RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS:
The National Residential School Crisis Line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.