Church Burnings Could Be Deemed Acts of Terrorism, Says Former CSIS Specialist

By Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew is a reporter based in Toronto.
July 14, 2021 Updated: July 19, 2021

A former security intelligence specialist says the recent spate of fires that demolished or partially damaged churches across the country are likely deliberate, which could constitute acts of terrorism under Canadian criminal law.

“As somebody who worked in counterterrorism in Canada for the better part of 15 years—I’ve written six books on the topic—a very strong case could be made that these are actually acts of terrorism,” Phil Gurski, president of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting, told The Epoch Times.

“It certainly isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that if in fact it’s deliberate, and it seems to be, and it’s a political message, which I think it seems to be, it seems to qualify as an act of terrorism under Canadian law.”

“I’m just going on Canadian Criminal Code definitions, and to me I think a case could be made there,” adds Gurski, a former terrorism specialist with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

An act of terrorism includes the use of violence that “causes substantial property damage, whether to public or private property,” if such damage is likely to also result in harming public safety, according to the Criminal Code section 83.01.

The arson and other acts of vandalism against Christian churches began after the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools.

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced in May that they had found 215 graves of indigenous children using ground-penetrating radar at a former residential school in Kamloops. This was followed by 751 unidentified graves found by the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan on June 24, while another 182 unmarked graves were found by the Lower Kootenay Band in B.C. a week later.

The Sacred Heart Mission Church on Penticton Indian Band land in B.C. was set alight on June 21, followed by another fire at St. Gregory’s Church on Osoyoos Indian Band land hours later. Both churches were burned to the ground and police are treating the fires as suspicious.

Fires and acts of vandalism targeting churches also occurred in other provinces, including Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. According to a list published by True North on July 12, some 45 Christian churches have been vandalized or burned down since the announcement of the discovery of the Kamloops graves.

As to who is behind the fires, Gurski sees three possibilities.

“I can see a lone actor. I can see small groups of people who happen to share certain belief systems. And … it’s never out of the realm of possibility that a group somewhere else could be egging somebody on, urging somebody on to take some action in this regard, to send a message about the … residential schools,” he said.

The RCMP has charged a youth with arson in connection the fire that burned down Our Lady of Mercy, an abandoned Catholic church on Kehewin Cree Nation land in Bonnyville, Alberta, on July 9. The youth was released from custody and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 21. Other cases remain unresolved.

Gurski notes that the vandalism of churches is not being as strongly condemned as it should be. “What concerns me is a lack of consistency in the government position as to what to call these [acts],” he said, adding that “if a mosque was burned or a synagogue was burned, you can imagine what a politician would say.”

In the reactions from politicians and officials to the attacks against churches, “you’re getting a bit of, ‘well, this is wrong, but I understand why they’re doing it,’” he said.

He adds that “terrorism is a very charged emotional term” that politicians will also avoid in certain cases.

“I find that a lot of people will throw the T word’ around, terrorism, for certain things but they won’t throw it around for other things,” he said.

“Down the road, if arrests are made and the determination is made as to who is behind it or why they’re behind it, this could qualify as a terrorism charge. No politician is going to touch that with a 10-foot pole right now because it really is seen as too sensitive.”

Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew is a reporter based in Toronto.