B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender is not commenting on the wave of vandalism and arson at Catholic churches.
Nor will the 2019-appointee to the NDP-created B.C. Office of the Human Rights Commissioner (BCOHRC) address the controversy surrounding the head of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
“At this time, we do not intend to make a public statement on the recent arson and vandalism of churches. We continue to monitor the situation and have nothing further to share at this time,” said Elaine O’Connor, acting communications director at the BCOHRC.
Arsonists and vandals have targeted numerous churches across Canada since the May 27 revelation by the Tk’emlups first nation that the remains of 215 children were radar-detected in unmarked graves near the former, Catholic-operated Indian residential school in Kamloops.
BCCLA executive director Harsha Walia tweeted the comment “burn it all down” with a link to a story about the arsons on June 30. Walia later claimed her words were not to be taken literally and the BCCLA president, David Fai, came to her defence.
That prompted practising Catholic Dave Pasin’s July 5 complaint to Govender, whose official website declares BCOHRC’s “core purpose” is to ensure the rights of everyone in B.C. are “protected and respected.” Religious freedom is included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and discrimination on religious grounds is illegal under B.C. law.
“Clearly burning down churches is discrimination and a form of injustice against those practicing a religion,” Pasin wrote. “Interestingly, the BCOHRC has not made a statement regarding this issue which contrasts with your own claim that the BCOHRC advocates for justice and deals with systemic issues and discriminatory behaviours.
“I have to ponder if Ms. Walia suggested burning down a mosque, temple, lodge or synagogue, would the reticence and foot dragging by the BCOHRC be as pronounced.”
Pasin was disappointed by the reply from BCOHRC engagement advisor Meghan Toal, who said Govender would not comment. “Our mandate is specifically to tackle systemic issues and is not focused on the actions of individuals,” Toal wrote.
Govender’s silence is in stark contrast to her recent comments on March 1, Zero Discrimination Day.
She tweeted a link to a Georgia Straight story about the hateful vandalism of trees in Marpole’s Riverview Park.
“Racist graffiti incl swastikas spraypainted on trees in South Vancouver park shows us, yet again, that racism and hate are not a thing of our past, but of the here and now,” Govender wrote.
By email, O’Connor said Govender “is very concerned about issues of hate and the rise of white supremacy and it is one of BCOHRC’s strategic priorities.”
Meanwhile, indigenous people have pleaded for the vandalism and arson to stop.
On July 4, Wade Grant of the Musqueam revealed that Vancouver Police responded to threats against a Catholic church on his reserve by erecting a mobile surveillance camera outside.
“We are upset too, but burning down churches and putting community members is not a solution. It only divides us,” Grant tweeted.
Five days later, representatives of nine South Vancouver Island first nations issued an open letter to condemn the attacks.
“Disrespectful and damaging acts we have seen are not helping, they are perpetuating hurt, hate and divide,” said the July 9 statement.
“All vandalism must stop immediately. Let’s lock arms, walk together, and look out for one another. Please do not lose sight of the young ones that we are honouring, and please listen to our elders and survivors.”
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