Calgary man charged with 2 of 11 church vandalisms this summer

Sacred Heart Church on 14th Street S.W. in Calgary, July 1, 2021

Police say charges have been laid against a Calgary man in connection with acts of vandalism of two local churches this summer. 

Investigators add the suspect is one of a number of people believed to be involved in a rash of incidents they surmise is connected to the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves outside Canada’s former residential schools. 

Orange and red paint was splashed on 11 different churches on the night of June 30. 

According to police,at one location a window was smashed so paint could be thrown inside. 

"Handprints, the number '215' and other markings suggest the vandalism was in response to the graves recently found at former residential schools," police said in a July news release

Police later released CCTV photos of the suspects. 

According to the latest developments, a break in the case came in August, when a detective attending an unrelated incident noticed a man who looked like one of the suspects in the photos. 

"The identification of the suspect led to further evidence coming to light and charges have now been laid in connection with two of the church vandalisms," police said.  

Sebastian Rodriguez-Huerta is charged with two counts of mischief to a property primarily used for religious worship. 

"It is alleged that these incidents also meet the threshold of being hate-motivated crime," police said. 

"Hate-motivated crimes are recognizable crimes, like assault, theft, vandalism or any other crime, where the offender was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate that is based on one of nine personal characteristics of the victim. 

"Any evidence of a hate motivation is considered by the courts after a person is found guilty of the connected crime. If the judge decides during sentencing that hate was a motivation for the offence, it is an aggravating factor that can add to the convicted person’s sentence." 

Police are continuing to investigate the church vandalisms as well as a case of arson involving a church at around that same time. 

Anyone with information on the church vandalisms or the church arson is asked to call the Calgary Police Service's non-emergency line at 403-266-1234 or by contacting Crime Stoppers

"Our service continues to be aware of the ongoing trauma and tensions in the community regarding the tragic and heartbreaking stories about the residential school system that have been shared this year," police said. 

"We want to assure the community that we are fully committed to working towards peaceful reconciliation and a recognition of our past, while still performing our duties of upholding the law and protecting public safety."