Items smashed, multiple fires set in brazen attack on Hamilton church

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St. John the Baptist Catholic Church is one of at least 83 Canadian churches desecrated since 2021. Photo Credit:  St. John the Baptist Catholic Church


On Wednesday, November 1st a fire broke out at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church located near King Street East and Ottawa Street South at 128 Edgemont Street South.

The Hamilton Police Arson Unit is investigating the fire as “suspicious.”

Public Information Officer Indy Bharaj told The Hamilton Independent that 911 was called around 1PM last Wednesday for a report of a fire.

When the fire department arrived the church was “full of smoke” and the back room of the church was “on fire,” says Bharaj.

The main altar and a second wooden altar were reportedly burnt and items were tossed “all over the sanctuary.”

Police say that the damage was estimated at $50,000 to $75,000.

It is believed that the only items stolen from the church were “two cases of worship wine.”

There was evidence that a person, or multiple people, had broken in through a back window.

Bharaj told The Hamilton Independent the morning of November 3rd that the Hate Crime Unit has been notified and is reviewing the incident.

However, an article by CBC News published in the afternoon on November 3rd says that they were told by Hamilton Police that “there is no evidence to suggest that this was a hate incident.”

It remains unclear why Hamilton Police do not believe the fire to be a hate incident.

Indeed, the Ontario Provincial Police define a hate crime as “a criminal act against a person(s) or property that is based solely, or in part, upon the victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability.”

While police continue to investigate, Bharaj also says that there is no suspect information as of yet.

In his only media interview about the incident, parish priest at the church Fr. Kevin Upendran told CHCH News, “For people to just break in and to destroy something that is so sacred to us, you feel violated really, and disrespected.”

Of note, the fire was set during the day while students at St. John the Baptist Elementary School, located just a few feet from the church, were in school.

The Hamilton Independent has also learned exclusive details about the fire.

Sources from the church say that it appeared that multiple fires were set within the church, even as many as five, indicating an attempt to cause much more extensive damage.

Due to the extensive vandalism, sources say that they consider it likely that multiple people were involved.

The church will now be closed for a number of weeks while restoration crews work on repairing the damage. It is hoped that the church will be open again in time for Christmas.

While the church community was distraught by the attack, the church’s annual Christmas Bazaar continued without incident in the St. John the Baptist Elementary School gym on November 3rd and 4th.

Parishioners are encouraged to attend Mass at St. Eugene’s Parish at the corner of Queenston Road and Parkdale Avenue South during the closure.

The incident is far from the only recent act of vandalism against a Canadian church.

True North News has detailed that at least 83 Christian churches in Canada have been “vandalized, burnt down, or desecrated” since 2021.

It was confirmed that at least some of those incidents were motivated by the discovery of over 200 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May 2021.

At least two other Hamilton churches have been subject to incidents. 

First Hamilton Christian Reformed Church on Charlton Avenue West was targeted by vandals on July 2, 2021 and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church on James Street South was set on fire on December 31, 2022.

A Statistics Canada study shows that there were 884 hate crimes in Canada targeting a religion in 2021 with 155 of those targeting Catholics.

That number represents a 260 per cent increase in hate crimes against Catholics compared to 2020. 

For comparison, the study says that there were 487 hate crimes against Jews in 2021 and 144 against Muslims. 

The study does not include data on hate crimes against other Christian denominations.

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