Arson charges laid in connection with fire at historic Fort Chipewyan church

Click to play video: 'Century-old church in Fort Chipewyan catches fire'
Century-old church in Fort Chipewyan catches fire
WATCH (Aug. 25): Residents in Fort Chipewyan woke up to word their historical church had burned to the ground. As Sarah Komadina reports, the cause is under investigation but RCMP say it seems to be suspicious – Aug 25, 2022

Two men are facing charges of arson in connection with a fire at a historic church in northeastern Alberta.

On Aug. 25 at 2:34 a.m., Fort Chipewyan RCMP were called about a structure fire at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Catholic Church.

When crews arrived, the church was engulfed in flames. The fire could not be extinguished and the building was destroyed.

An arson investigation was launched by the Fort Chipewyan RCMP detachment, the RMWB Regional Emergency Services’ fire investigation unit and Wood Buffalo Forensic Identifications Services.

On Monday, RCMP said 19-year-old Raymond Ahyasou-Cardinal, a resident of Fort Chipewyan, was charged with arson.

He was released after a judicial hearing and is scheduled make an appearance at the Fort Chipewyan Provincial Courthouse on Dec. 1.

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An arrest warrant was obtained and was about to be issued for 26-year-old August Tanner Marcel, also a resident of Fort Chipewyan, for arson. Just before the warrant was released, Marcel turned himself into RCMP on Oct. 24. He is awaiting a judicial hearing.

At the time of the fire, officers said it was a big loss to the community.

Built in 1909, the church has been part of the community for over 100 years.

In a statement, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation chief and council said they were saddened by the loss of the church.

“Even though the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Roman Catholic Church is complicated, the loss of the church will be deeply felt in the community,” the statement read.

“Over 100 years of history in the community was lost, a history that included marriages, funerals and hundreds of other significant moments in the community.”

Click to play video: 'Fire at historic church in Fort Chipewyan being investigated as suspicious: RCMP'
Fire at historic church in Fort Chipewyan being investigated as suspicious: RCMP

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro also issued a statement about the church fire, saying he was concerned about churches being destroyed by vandalism. He wondered “if the same hate and intolerance are at the root of this latest devastating act.”

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“Hate-motivated crimes like this have no place in Alberta, and our government has been working hard to offer protection and support to those who are being targeted,” Shandro said in August.

RCMP asked members of the public who felt victimized by this crime to contact the Wood Buffalo Victim Services Unit at 780-788-4250 for information on the completion of victim impact statements and other available resources.

Fort Chipewyan is located within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, about 700 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

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