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Alberta boosts funding to improve security of churches, religious buildings

Program originally offering $2 million annually will now distribute $5 million
St. Jean Baptiste Parish Catholic church is shown in Morinville Alta, on Wednesday June 30, 2021 as firefighters put out hot spots. Alberta is more than doubling the amount of funding for a program it announced last summer for security improvements at religious facilities to protect them from hate crimes and vandalism. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta is more than doubling its funding for a program that aims to protect places of worship from hate crimes and vandalism.

Premier Jason Kenney told a news conference at the Calgary Vietnamese Alliance Church on Sunday that there has been a spate of violence directed at Christian communities since he announced the Alberta Security Infrastructure Program at an Edmonton mosque last June.

The program originally offered $2 million annually to help religious facilities make security improvements. It will now distribute $5 million — a plan the government made in last month’s throne speech.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the program can help churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, community centres and schools with diverse students for things like cameras, fences, blast-resistant glass and security training.

Kenney noted that a fire last July at the Calgary Vietnamese Alliance Church was an act of “anti-Christian violence” and another blaze last summer at the St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alta., burned the church to the ground.

Kenney said some people tried to excuse the acts by connecting them to “the terrible injustice of the Indian Residential School system.” But he said recognizing the “wickedness of that system” cannot justify “acts of hateful violence inflicted against faith communities.”

“Public safety is a public responsibility and we have a particular responsibility to ensure the safety of vulnerable communities that are targeted by hate-inspired violence,” Kenney said.

Other churches in Alberta and across Canada were vandalized or damaged in fires last year following the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Perry Bellegarde, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said at the time that he understood the rage, frustration and pain brought on by the discovery of the unmarked graves, But that burning down churches would not bring justice and was “not our way.”

Pastor Thai Nguyen with the Calgary Vietnamese Alliance Church said the fire destroyed everything in the sanctuary and, due to a misunderstanding about its insurance, the church only had public liability coverage.

Nguyen said the church has raised about $500,000 for repairs. He said that includes $10 a woman who appeared to be Indigenous handed to him shortly after the fire.

Kenney said the church has spent about $10,000 on security systems but would like a perimeter fence. He also noted that no charges have been laid in the fire.

The province said new calls for grant applications will take place this spring and fall and more information on program eligibility and the application process will be available soon.

Kenney said 110 applications to the program have already been approved. Shandro said the average approval has been for $10,000.

— Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Fire destroys Catholic Church north of Edmonton, RCMP say blaze suspicious