'More than a building': Surrey, B.C., church officials respond after building destroyed in suspicious fire
Officials and members are mourning the loss of a building they say fostered a sense of community after a Metro Vancouver church was destroyed in a suspicious fire Monday.
Flames broke out at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church on 108 Avenue and 139 Street in Surrey shortly after 3:30 a.m.
By the time firefighters arrived, the building was engulfed in flames and it was upgraded to a third-alarm fire.
"Our church was more than a building … it was a place we built community, where we shared meals, where we married our youth, christened our babies and welcomed newcomers to the faith," a statement from Bishop Anba Mina said.
"We are in shock and struggling to cope in the emotional wake of this incident. We are grateful to all of those who have reached out expressing their sympathies, prayers and offers of support as we determine our next steps as a community."
Mounties said Monday the string of fires targeting various churches is on the minds of police as they investigate.
"We also are aware that there have been other church fires across British Columbia and other parts of Canada, and we are alive to that," Sgt. Elenore Sturko said.
"We don't have any information to suggest is related to any of those other incidents at this time, but our officers, and the Surrey Fire Service, are treating this as suspicious at this time."
At least five churches in B.C. were destroyed or damaged by flames in the past month. Some have speculated that the recent church destruction and vandalism could be connected to discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country as most of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.
The schools were known for overcrowding, poor sanitation, unhealthy food and menial labour. Harsh punishment was given to students who spoke their native language or took part in traditional ceremonies.
Surrey RCMP confirmed there was also an attempted arson at the church last week, and the investigation is ongoing.
Surveillance video, provided by the church and dated last Wednesday at 2:30 a.m., shows a woman approaching the front door of the building and lighting it on fire.
Police say the suspect in the attempted arson on July 14 is a white woman who is about 5'7" tall. She has dark hair and was wearing black hoodie, black tank top, black tights with a flower print and black flip-flops at the time.
Mounties say even though both incidents at the church are considered suspicious, there is no evidence linking the two at this time.
"It is the duty of our elected officials to provide equal safety measures to protect all citizen and places of worship irrespective of their religious affiliation and cultural identity," Mina's statement said.
"We call on the honourable Premier John Horgan, the City of Surrey and all authorities in the province of British Columbia to take measures to support communities of faith during this difficult time."
Anyone with information about the recent fire is asked to call Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502. Tips can also be left anonymously with Crime Stoppers.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Vancouver's Angela Jung