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Trudeau condemns spate of arson attacks on Catholic churches as Canada reels from unmarked graves scandal

Trudeau condemns spate of arson attacks on Catholic churches as Canada reels from unmarked graves scandal
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has denounced the ongoing spree of arson and vandalism targeting churches as “unacceptable.” The attacks are believed to be retaliation to historic abuses of indigenous children in church-run schools.

“It is unacceptable and wrong that acts of vandalism and arson are being seen across the country, including against Catholic churches,” Trudeau said on Friday, less than 24 hours after statues of Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria were torn down by protesters in Winnipeg without any interference by police.

The latest acts of vandalism followed a spree of attacks on Catholic churches built on First Nation lands. At least seven churches have caught fire in recent weeks, since the grim discovery of more than 1,100 unmarked graves at sites where Catholic-run residential schools used to operate.

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Tensions ran especially high on Canada Day, celebrated on Thursday, and at least 10 Calgary churches were defaced with red spray-paint, some marked with the words “we were children” and “our lives matter.”

Trudeau said that while he understands the grievances of indigenous peoples who are taking out their anger on the churches, he argued the attacks were “depriving people who are in need of grieving and healing and mourning places.” He called for reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, adding that years might pass before the wounds are healed.

“What took generations and centuries to break in terms of the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, it will take more than just a few years to fix it all.”

While the Canadian government now acknowledges the widespread boarding school abuses, the Catholic church has never formally apologized for what many indigenous people see as acts of cultural and physical genocide.

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Amid growing calls from activists and Trudeau himself for the Vatican to acknowledge its role in the ill-treatment of native children, Pope Francis agreed to meet with representatives of the First Nations leaders later this year. 

So far, however, there have been no apologies, and the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, said on Wednesday that his group was given no guarantee that the visit would result in “any kind of apology” or that Francis would travel to Canada to address indigenous people himself, as suggested by Trudeau.

More than half of Canada's residential schools between 1831 and 1996 were run by the Catholic Church.

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