B.C.’s ombudsperson says the province’s plan to apologize for the detention of Doukhobor children in the 1950s is a “momentous step,” despite taking more than 60 years.
But he’s calling out the attorney general for remaining vague about compensation for the survivors, their families and communities.
Ombudsperson Jay Chalke released the latest report, “Time to Right the Wrong,” Tuesday (July 18), the second update to the original 1999 report on the treatment of Doukhobor’s in the West Kootenays in the 1950s. The report focuses on a dark chapter of B.C.’s history.
Approximately 200 children were apprehended and confined at a former tuberculosis sanatorium in New Denver between 1953 and 1959. The children were taken from their parents, “often under the cover of darkness,” because their parents identified as Sons of Freedom Doukhobors who opposed government policies and regulations, including refusing to send their children to public school.
He said the government of the time thought the parents’ actions were wrong, “and while the children had done nothing wrong, in order to exert influence over their parents, government apprehended the children.
Chalke says following the children’s forced removal and separation from their families, many of the children were mistreated both physically and psychologically.
“The children, for their part, were caught up in a situation not of their own making.”
The trauma continues, with some of the children now in the 70s or 80s and many of the apprehended children having since passed away. While an apology would be emotional, many are still determined to see their government “do the right thing in their lifetimes.” He said it’s believed there are between 70 and 100 survivors still alive.
There is also the intergenerational trauma.
Chalke said he spoke with a descendant who, through tears, said their grandparent died the month before without ever hearing an apology.
The report comes of the heels of recent complaints from survivors about government inaction.
The Office of the Ombudsperson released its first report in 1999, titled “Righting the Wrong,” investigating the events and ultimately finding what happened to these children as unjust and oppressive. At the time, the ombudsperson called on the provincial government to apologize and compensate the victims. That call was repeated in 2002.
“That’s something that’s a surprise to me. I guess to be at this point so many years later, I think sometimes when we make a recommendation it does take some time for governments to adopt them, but it’s pretty unusual to find ourselves a quarter century later and still be in this situation.”
Included in Tuesday’s report is the response to the ombudsperson’s report from B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma, where she said the government’s forcible removal and confinement of children whose parents were members of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobor community continues to have long-lasting, traumatic impacts on survivors and their families today.
“As a government and a society, it’s important that we continue to shine a ligh on injustices like this – which are rarely mentioned in history books – so they are never forgotten or repeated.”
She added government is prepared to issue an apology this fall and are “preparing a formal recognition package.”
It doesn’t specify what the package is, and Chalke told reporters that it’s “undefined and not clear at this time.”
“The government has not said what it is intending to include in this package or when it will be finalized and announced. After waiting 70 years for justice, this community deserves a clear articulation of precisely how government intends to right this long-standing tragic wrong rather than opaque jargon.”