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Fire that levels church near Alberta Indigenous community under investigation

An undated file photo of an RCMP detachment. An undated file photo of an RCMP detachment.
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Janvier, Alberta -

RCMP in Alberta are investigating a fire that destroyed a church.

Police say their Wood Buffalo detachment responded to the fire on Friday night in Janvier, a hamlet located adjacent to the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation.

They say in a news release that the building was fully engulfed when they arrived, and that people they spoke with saw a silver sedan driving away from the church around the time it went up in flames.

Earlier this month, RCMP said they were investigating fires at two other churches in Barrhead, Alta., which happened earlier this month and which investigators believed were intentionally set.

Bishop Gary Franken of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Paul says the church that burned in Janvier was the unused "old" church, which was right beside the new church that has been in use for a number of years.

Franken says the new church was not damaged.

"There was some talk about using the former church as a museum, but no decision was finalized about that," Franken wrote in an email Sunday.

"These church buildings belong to the First Nations band that they are on. The Diocese of St. Paul is responsible for providing the ministry, with a priest coming down from Fort McMurray on a Sunday once a month for Mass," he added.

Chipewyan Prairie First Nation councillor Shane Janvier said, in a video shot beside the ruins of the burned church and posted on Facebook, that the building was the site of community celebrations, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Janvier said his first communion was in the church.

"Enough's enough. We've got to look out for one another as a community," Janvier said in the video.

"We're Denésoliné people. If we're going to make statements that this is our land, we're going to fight for this land, then we'd better damn well learn to respect this land," he continued, panning the camera towards the still smoldering ruins.

"That's not respect. That's not respecting our community."

RCMP are asking anyone information or footage regarding the fire to contact the Wood Buffalo RCMP Detachment, or to contact Crime Stoppers if they wish to remain anonymous.

Janvier noted that anyone with information who doesn't feel comfortable contacting police could also pass the information to him and that he'd forward it to police.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2023

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