Recently, a group of Catholic nuns in a van with an Alberta licence plate was seen driving around communities in Northwest B.C. causing a social media furor.
People were sharing photos of the nuns on Facebook, and many claims were made involving possible sex trafficking. Parents were urged to keep their children safe and away from the van, as the nuns made their way around the Northwest.
The Kitimat Northern Sentinel confirmed that the nuns, two from Brazil and four from Poland, attended a mass at the Catholic Church in Kitimat and representatives for the church had spoken to them and said they were real nuns, here on vacation.
The nuns were spotted in Kitimat, Prince Rupert, and Burns Lake, among other communities.
Father Terry Brock from Annunciation Church in Prince Rupert then wrote a letter to the editor of The Northern View, saying he knew the nuns and that they were on vacation from Edmonton and “simply wanted to ‘see’ the ocean and enjoy nature.”
“They did not intend to interact with the local people because of COVID-19,” he wrote. “There was no intent to harm, no intent of disturbing their life.”
The letter was also sent to the Catholic church in Kitimat, where Brock used to work, who then forwarded it to the Kitimat Northern Sentinel.
Brock, who has also worked in Kitimat and Terrace, knew the two Brazilian sisters from when they had previously lived in Terrace, themselves, as well, many years ago. That was part of the reason they came here for vacation, he added, because they were familiar with the area.
Brock said the sisters were unaware of the rumours on Facebook when they first arrived, but eventually found out when people starting approaching them.
“They were approached in both in positive and mostly negative ways,” Brock said.
He said that, once they knew about the online comments, they became more fearful in public. As did Brock, himself, as he experienced the people approaching them to tell them about the online comments when he went out for coffee with them in Prince Rupert.
Brock added that on the day before they left, the sisters went for a picnic lunch at Ferry Island in Terrace, where Brock said they told him a man approached them in an intimidating manner.
“He walked up to them and said, ‘I notice your van has Alberta plates. Somebody told me you were here.’ And then he walked away.”
Brock said at this point, the sisters became very scared, packed up their picnic, and went back to Kitimat, where they were staying. They then tried to not stop as much on their drive back to Edmonton because they were afraid of being harmed.
“The six sisters … came to the West Coast to see the ocean!” Brock wrote. “They finally got to see it during their short time in Prince Rupert that was cut short due to the growing fear they experienced.”
People on Facebook posted pictures of the nuns, along with their fears of why they thought the nuns here.
“Late last night a van full of ‘nuns’ were trying to get into the village to go pray for our people,” a Facebook post by Ashley Studley read. “I respect that, but something was fishy about it. They were found in the Nass Valley today as well. I’m not sure why my gut is leaning towards the suspicion of sex traffickers, we can never be too careful.”
“Creepy van full of nuns going around trying to go from village to village everyone keep your kids safe!!! Don’t let your kids travel around alone,” Lynn Innes wrote in another post.
Once it was discovered that the nuns were real, comments came from either side, some apologizing and some condemning them for trying to get into communities that are closed during the pandemic.
“I can appreciate what they were trying to see. I can also, and most importantly, understand why smaller communities are very hesitant about letting strangers into their communities,” Barbara Kalina wrote in a comment in response to Brock’s letter to the editor that the Kitimat Northern Sentinel shared on Facebook. “[These] traveling nuns…should’ve been told this before they started their trip and that way they would have not felt as uncomfortable as you have made them out to be.”
“I feel bad these ladies experienced such negativity,” Jen Nunes wrote in another response to the Northern Sentinel‘s post. “Unfounded posts on Facebook spreading fear that they were going around kidnapping children and selling them into the sex slave trade were extremely rude and unwarranted.”
Some people were less sympathetic to the nuns and said they felt they should’ve planned better coming into a community during a pandemic.
“[E]very time I hear about the church it’s predatory,” Amanda Acal wrote in response to the Terrace Standard‘s shared post on Facebook about Brock’s letter. “Being a bunch of nuns doesn’t exempt you.”
“…and given history, a group of church representatives showing up to a reserve community without prior communication is a poorly thought out plan,” Friday Bailey’s response to the Terrace Standard‘s post added.
Brock explained that the nuns didn’t know when they first arrived that the First Nations communities were closed to the public, but they respected the rules when they were turned away.
“The border used to be closed from Alberta to B.C., but that’s open, so they can go anywhere,” Brock said. “So, I would say naively and innocently they didn’t know, but they found out when they went to Kitamaat Village, that they couldn’t get in. So, they respected that, turned around and left.”
The nuns have since gone back to Edmonton, and Brock said he is unsure of whether they’ll return again after this experience.