Memorial to residential school victims set on fire outside Calgary City Hall

·2 min read
A memorial to the victims of the residential school system, outside of City Hall in downtown Calgary, was set on fire late Tuesday.  ( Mark Matulis/CBC - image credit)
A memorial to the victims of the residential school system, outside of City Hall in downtown Calgary, was set on fire late Tuesday. ( Mark Matulis/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A memorial honouring residential school victims at Calgary City Hall was set on fire Tuesday night.

Police say that just before 11:30 p.m. MT, city corporate security saw closed-circuit video of a man trying to light the memorial on fire before fleeing the area.

Police and firefighters arrived to find shoes and other objects at the memorial heavily damaged.

"We are very aware of the current tensions in the community around residential schools and the acts of vandalism and arson that have been occurring. We will examine whether there is any connection in this case, but we are asking people in the meantime to be patient while we work to identify the suspect," police said in a release.

Calgary Police Service
Calgary Police Service

Police said it's not yet known what motivated the lighting of the fire. The Calgary Police Service's hate crimes and extremism unit is assisting in the investigation.

The man in the video is described as having short hair and was wearing a black baseball cap, a black backpack, blue jeans, white-soled shoes and a long-sleeved plaid shirt.

Nicole Johnston from Piikani Nation led a rally at City Hall on July 31, calling for the federal government to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate deaths at residential schools.

Johnston says the arson shows racism is alive and well in Canada.

"That memorial represents the innocence that was taken from the Indigenous people. Those children there could have been leaders today," she said. "I'm angry, I'm hurt."

She said residential school survivors and their descendents are resilient.

"We're just going to keep moving and we're just going to get louder and whatever was damaged there, it's going to be replaced and now it's going to call out for more people … to have their voices heard."

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

In recent months, it's estimated that more than 1,000 potential unmarked gravesites have been located at former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, prompting a national reckoning.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report, published in 2015, said the church-run, government-sponsored system was a tool for cultural genocide.

Several churches around the country have been defaced or set on fire in the wake of the findings.

Police are asking anyone with information about the fire to call 403-266-1234 or contact Calgary Crime Stoppers anonymously.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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