'Burn it all down': Head of B.C. civil liberties group resigns over tweet about church fires


« Brûlez-les toutes ! » : la haine anti-catholique de la gauche révélée au grand jour

In a letter, the board of directors said that, following the June tweet, the organization faced 'inexcusable racism and misogyny and threats to physical and mental safety'

The head of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association — one of the most significant civil rights groups in the country — has left her job following an uproar after a social media post that seemed to celebrate the burning of Catholic churches.

In late June, Harsha Walia quote-tweeted a Vice news report regarding Catholic churches that had been burned, following the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves near the sites of former residential schools.


“Burn it all down,” Walia wrote.

On Friday, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association announced Walia had resigned and that the board of directors had accepted her resignation “with heavy hearts.”

In a separate letter, the board of directors said, following Walia’s tweet, the organization faced “inexcusable racism and misogyny and threats to physical and mental safety.”


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“We encountered a wave of hateful commentary, fueled by the fact that our executive director is a racialized woman leader.”

Still, the association said Walia’s tweet, “using a particular turn of phrase in that context” — ie. “burn it all down” — “left some people with the wrong impression about the values and principles to which we adhere.”

“We regret the misunderstanding that was caused by the tweet and apologize for the harm the words caused,” the letter said.

The initial tweet caused an uproar among right-wing bloggers and conservative commentators in Canada — and abroad.

Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, dedicated a segment to church burnings, and called Walia “a monster” in his commentary, before moving on to former Liberal adviser Gerald Butts, who suggested in a tweet that the burning of churches might be “understandable.”

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The BCCLA is clearly on the wrong side of history here


Throughout the drama, Walia has had her supporters; some suggested the idiomatic “burn it all down” had been misconstrued by her critics. In a piece written for The Tyee, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the head of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, wrote that “burn it all down” is a call for decolonization not arson, and said the outrage is “pearl clutching.”

“‘Burn it all down’ is part of a lexicon of social movements going back two centuries,” Phillip, and his co-authors, wrote.

Ryan McMahon, an Anishinaabe comedian and host of the Red Man Laughing podcast, told the National Post Sunday that “burn it all down” is “clearly referring to a challenge to historic systemic inequities as a result of ongoing colonization and assimilation in Canada.”

“Either the BCCLA has never read her work nor followed the conversation she’s been leading in this country for many years,” McMahon wrote to the Post. “(Or), they’re not aware of who they hired to lead their organization and they caved to pressures issued disingenuously and wildly out of context.”

“Either way, the BCCLA is clearly on the wrong side of history here.”

News reports have estimated around 45 instances of fires or vandalism at churches, since the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc first announced it had discovered 215 probable grave sites at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

We do not destroy people's places of worship


Police forces have said they’re investigating many of these; few, if any, arrests have been made and the motivations of the arsons — and the perpetrators — remain unclear, though many have been quick to draw connections between the grave discoveries and the vandalism.

Jenn Allan-Riley, a Pentecostal assistant minister and Sixties Scoop survivor, said at a Vancouver press conference in early July, “burning down churches is not solidarity with us Indigenous people.”

“We do not destroy people’s places of worship,” Allan-Riley said.

Others, including Ellis Ross, a B.C. Liberal and former Haisla Nation councillor, who’s now running to head the B.C. Liberal party, condemned “senseless acts of violence.” Greg Gabriel, the chief of the Penticton Indian Band, also condemned the burning of the Sacred Hearts Church on his band’s land.

“There is a lot of hurt. But this type of action doesn’t help if in fact it is found to be deliberate,” Gabriel said.

The Post was unable to reach Walia for comment on Sunday.