July 5, 2021



The executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), Harsha Walia, is under fire for commenting on a story about the wave of church arsons sweeping Canada by saying “Burn it all down.”

Walia, a Bahrain-born South Asian based in Vancouver and described as “a community organizer and campaigner in migrant justice, feminist, anti-capitalist, abolitionist, and anti-imperialist movements” in her profile at the left-wing Intercept, made the inflammatory intervention in response to a VICE report on two Roman Catholic churches being burned down in Alberta and Nova Scotia.

Many churches have been burned or vandalised in recent days, amidst reports of unmarked graves — often wrongly described as “mass graves” by the mainstream media — being uncovered at former Indian Residential Schools, which native children were once required to attend as part of a government effort to integrate them into Canada’s culture.

The schools, typically run by churches, were established in the 1800s. It has been reported that at least some of the graves used to be marked, with the BBC pointing out that “Burial plots used to be marked with wooden crosses that crumbled over the years” at one of the sites.

“I don’t understand why the [executive director] of the BC Civil Liberties Assoc is calling for violence,” said Nico Slobinsky, Pacific Region director at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), in response to Walia’s “Burn it all down” comment.

“Violence and hate don’t appear to be solutions being proposed by Indigenous communities, and it is their voices we should be listening to and respecting on this matter,” he added.

“Thank you [Nico Slobinsky] for calling out [HarshaWalia’s] incredible lack of judgement. Being a leader is not about burning things down but working toward building things up,” concurred Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.

Walia was not without her defenders, however, with The Hill Times columnist Erica Ifill accusing “Canadian whiteness” of “gleefully tone-policing and harassing a powerful, racialized woman from [sic] telling the truth.”

Lawyer Naomi Sayers said that she, too, would “would help [Walia] burn it all down… And also, I would help defend anyone charged with arson if they actually did burn things,” later clarifying that, in her view, “Burn it all down. Doesn’t literally mean, burn it down. But just in case, I can also defend, both civil and criminal.”

The reporting on Walia’s comments follows similar coverage of radio host Nesta Matthews declaring “Burn the churches down” amid the ongoing unrest.