Coptic Orthodox church in British Columbia destroyed in ‘suspicious’ fire

Coptic Orthodox church in British Columbia destroyed in ‘suspicious’ fire

The remains of St. George Coptic Orthodox Church, Surrey, BC / St. George Coptic Orthodox Church

Washington D.C., Jul 20, 2021 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

A Coptic Orthodox church in British Columbia was destroyed in a fire on Monday, July 19, just days after an attempted arson attack damaged the church’s door. 

Local police said they were alerted to a fire at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey around 3:17 a.m. on Monday. By the time the fire was extinguished, the building was almost entirely demolished and only a single wall was left standing. No one was reported injured in the fire.

“While today is a day of sadness, we will not be deterred and we will rebuild,” said Bishop Mina of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Mississauga, Vancouver and Western Canada in a statement on Monday. “Our church will always be open for all and continue to be a beacon of light and hope for all in our community.”

Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, stated Monday on Twitter that he was “saddened” by news of the fire.

The church was built in 1960. It was also the target of attempted arson last week, but authorities have not yet declared Monday’s fire to be arson. Surrey Royal Canadian Mounted Police deemed the fire to be “suspicious,” and on Monday said that the debris needed to cool before investigators could determine the cause of the fire.

Surrey Assistant Fire Chief Shelley Morris told the Vancouver Sun that “we just have to wait for the hotspots to be put out before we can go in and do a proper investigation.” 

On July 14 at 2:33 a.m., surveillance footage captured a woman appearing to set a fire at the door of the church. The suspect, who has not yet been identified, was described by police as “a Caucasian woman, 5’7 tall, with a heavy-set build, and dark hair,” and “wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, a black tank top, black tights with a flower print, and black flip flops.”

Surrey Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the two fires were “suspicious,” but added that “there is currently no evidence linking these two separate investigations.” 

Bishop Mina called the timing of Monday’s fire “more than circumstantial,” adding that it “therefore raises many questions about what the authorities did to protect our church, especially considering the attempt on the same church this past Wednesday.”

He called on provincial leaders “to immediately and expeditiously conclude this investigation.”

There has been a spate of Catholic and Christian church burnings in Canada, following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at the sites of former Catholic-run residential schools for Indigenous children. 

In May, June, and July, unmarked graves were discovered at the sites of three former schools in British Columbia, in Kamloops, Penelakut Island, and Cranbook; 751 unmarked graves were also reported discovered at the site of a former school in Marieval, Saskatchewan on June 24. 

St. George Coptic Church is the latest Canadian church to be destroyed in a “suspicious” fire. 

Four Catholic churches in British Columbia, all located on tribal lands, were destroyed over two weekends in June. In July, one Catholic parish north of Edmonton, Alberta, and two vacant former Catholic churches in Saskatchewan and on Kehewin Cree Nation near Bonnyville, Alberta, were also destroyed by fires. 

Earlier in July, several other churches in Alberta and Ontario were discovered on fire; the fires were extinguished without significant damage to the churches.