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B.C. church arsonist’s sentencing delayed while a Christian community tries to heal

Despite the burning of St. George Coptic Orthodox Church taking place after the announcement of unmarked residential school graves, there was no evidence in court that suggests the arson is related.

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On Wednesday, it was announced that the sentencing for the arsonist responsible for burning down a 70-year-old church — which also ran a large daycare — in Surrey, British Columbia, was been delayed until April 8, 2022.

St. George Coptic Orthodox Church is described as a haven for its diverse community. It served over 500 families, many of whom are new immigrants, refugees, and have fled persecution for their faith in other countries to seek a better life in Canada.

On July 14 2021, a Ms. Kathleen Betty Panek, 35, set fire to decorations that were placed on the door of St. George Coptic Orthodox Church and walked away as a fire started and burned out on it’s own.

She returned five days later to set the church on fire, this time engulfing it in flames, destroying it beyond repair.

The attack on the church has devastated members of it’s community, including a young man who detailed experiencing nightmares, and depression because of it, while reading his victim impact statement in court.

St. George Coptic Orthodox Church, was one of 68 churches to be burnt, or vandalized in the two summer months following the announcement of the locating of a previously known about, unmarked gravesite at Kamloops Residential School. Despite this church burning taking place during those same months, there was no evidence in court that suggests the arson is related. Crown Counsel, Michael Fortino, said “this was not an offence that was motivated by hate.” 

Panek is of no fixed address and says she set fire to the church after getting in a fight with her boyfriend. She plead guilty to one count of arson to property for the church, and one count of arson and endangering life for setting two units on fire, at Whalley's Sunshine Housing Co-op on March 15, 2021.

The Crown is seeking four years including time served.

Panek, who attended the hearing via video from custody, told the judge:

“I just want to say to everyone who was impacted by my irresponsible actions that I am truly sorry and to let everyone know that it will never happen again.”

Watch my full report to hear from St. George Coptic Orthodox Church Board Member, Steve Faltas, and Lorraine Dubuc, who was one of the people displaced from her home for nearly a year after Panek set her unit on fire.

If you appreciate that Rebel News fought to bring you the other side of the while churches were under attack in Canada, and even crowd-funded so our viewers could help repair a church on First Nation land, consider donating here to keep our independent journalism going strong.

If you have any information about someone who vandalized, or set fire to a church last year, let us know at FindTheArsonist.com and you could be rewarded $10,000.

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  • By Drea Humphrey

Find the Arsonist

$10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest of the criminals who are burning down Canadian churches.

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