Community gutted after B.C.'s landmark Chilcotin Log Church destroyed in suspicious fire

A repeat offender who was out on bail has been arrested after the landmark church, which was embraced by the local First Nation community, was destroyed by a 'suspicious fire.'

Community gutted after B.C.'s landmark Chilcotin Log Church destroyed in suspicious fire
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Pastor Art Joyce tells Rebel News that a big chunk of his life went down in flames when the Chilcotin Log Church, which also served as a non-profit “free store” charity, was consumed by fire. The church, located in the British Columbia Interior near Hansville and which shared a common boundary with the East side of the Tl'etinqox Reserve (formerly Anaham reserve), was engulfed by fire in the early morning hours of February 10.

Joyce, who has lived alone since his wife’s passing, and resides approximately 50 yards away from where the church stood, says neighbours came over to his place to comfort him as they watched the church burn through his window.

Prior to that sombre moment, Joyce missed a call around 4 a.m., and he later received a voice message from another neighbour, who warned him to lock his doors because “a crazy guy” was allegedly in his home threatening him and talking about fire.

“He obviously had gas or diesel or something, because by the time I got myself out and joined another neighbour who came to check on me, the whole one side of the church was in flames,” Joyce recalled.

Joyce says the police “were right on top of it.”

RCMP officials confirmed in a statement they apprehended a man named Cassidy Baron Billy after receiving reports of a stolen vehicle, a man entering a resident and making death threats to a resident, fires to a structure on the West side of Anaham Reserve, and to the Chilcotin Log Church.

While Joyce says he knows most of the people on the reserve, he didn’t personally know Mr. Billy.

“I know his grandfather pretty well; he’s an excellent horseman, and apparently his grandson has been one of those guys who’s been in and out of trouble his whole life,” says Joyce.

Despite the Chilcotin Log Church being one of at least 98 churches to have been burned or vandalized since the debunked claim was made that the remains of 215 children, who were students of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, had been discovered in unmarked graves back in 2021, Joyce says he doesn’t believe the attack on his church was connected to such claims.

When asked if Joyce felt that the rise in attacks on Christian places over the past two and a half years could be connected to a general increase in discrimination against Christians, he replied, “it could be, but we’ve really got a unique situation out here.”

During our telephone interview, Joyce reminisced about a time where he was invited to lead a prayer on what he still refers to as the Anaham reserve, for those, including himself, who chose to stay put despite evacuation calls due to raging wildfires that struck the region in 2017.

“There was quite a crowd of people out in front of the band office, and you could see flames on the horizon in three different directions. We formed a circle in front of the band office,” Joyce remembers.

Joyce says he and his late wife, who used to work with some children on the reserve through the church, were among the very few non-Indigenous people present of the approximately 60 people inside of the circle. “We joined hands, and somebody said well we better pray, and they looked at me and said, ‘Art, you pray.’

“They know I’m a Christian, they know I’m a pastor, and they’re really interested in their traditional religion and stuff too, but they invited me as an elder to start the prayer circle,’” Joyce reminisced. “It was really, really special.”

He gave Rebel News more examples of special moments he and his congregation have shared with the reserve’s community, including health workers from the reserve who come and check the 86-year-old pastor’s vitals regularly to ensure he is doing well as part of their elderly program.

Joyce says the church, which is the only Protestant church between Williams Lake and Tatla Lake, was also a staple for weddings and funerals in the area, including some Indigenous community members.

According to Joyce, Tl'etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse even attended a funeral at the Chilcotin Log Church when one of his band members, who was also a member of the church, had a memorial taking place there.

“They don’t look at me as the other; they look at me as part of the community, and yeah, I’m a Christian, and they’ve had some negative things happen with the church and residential schools, but they do not connect me to any of that,” said Joyce.

When asked about what Joyce thinks about the “catch-and-release” pattern we see in Canada, where repeat offenders get released to the public shortly after committing serious crimes, Joyce says his community has suffered greatly because of the policy.

“The police work very hard, and they arrest people and then they get out on bail, and we’ve had times in the past where we’ve experienced a lot of crime because of that,” he explains.

According to Joyce, there has been some saving grace that’s contributed to crime decreasing in his area, and it comes in the form of the leadership of Tl'etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse.

“He’s really put the lid on a lot of the crime out here,” says Joyce. “We don’t see the level of crime here anymore,” Joyce continued. Joyce says over the past 30 years of living there and pastoring the church, people were very frightened about the crime in the area.

Joyce says theft to vehicles, chainsaws, and everything you can imagine was common.

“You don’t see that now, and I don’t know how Joe did it, but more power to him, but he said you know we’re not going to allow this in our community,” and “he has done an amazing job to protect his own people from crime and us as neighbors to be protected from crime since he became chief here.”

Joyce added that the “burning here of the church, it’s a shock because we don’t see that.”

In a statement to Rebel News, RCMP Corporal Madonna Saunderson confirmed that Mr. Cassidy Baron Billy, who has been arrested and received multiple charges connected to the alleged crime spree that occurred this past weekend, was out on bail “with respect to previous charges of S Careless Use of Firearm, Possess Firearm without License and Possess Weapon for Dangerous Purpose” during the time of the incidents.

Cassidy Baron Billy has received a slew of charges since his most recent arrest, including for offences of theft of vehicle, uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm, Fail to comply with a release order (2x). Billy has not received a charge connected to any of the fires.

When Rebel News followed up with Alexis Creek RCMP detachment who conducted the majority of the investigation into the criminal activities that took place about why Mr. Billy has yet to be charged with arson, we were told the situation is “still under investigation” by a Corporal Pobin.

Rebel News has vigilantly covered details about Canada’s ongoing church attacks, including Saskatchewan’s Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, whose entrance was lit on fire with gasoline by a masked individual the day before the Chilcotin Log Church was destroyed.

If you think our law makers and law enforcers need to do more to protect Christian places of worship, please sign and share our petition at SaveOurChurches.ca.

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  • By Drea Humphrey

PETITION: Save Our Churches

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