Members of the Doukhobor community are reeling after an expected apology from the B.C. government was postponed at the last minute.
According to email obtained by Castlegar News, the Doukhobor community received invitations on Monday evening (Nov. 27) from Premier David Eby and Attorney General Niki Sharma.
The apology has been expected since B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke released the report, “Time to Right the Wrong,” in July. In that report, the province had made a commitment to apologize. Chalke’s report was the second update to the original 1999 report on the treatment of Doukhobors in the West Kootenays in the 1950s.
Approximately 200 children were taken from their parents, primarily because their parents identified as Sons of Freedom Doukhobors who opposed government policies and regulations, including refusing to send their children to public school.
In the July report, Chalke called the promised apology a “momentous step,” but called out the attorney general for remaining vague about compensation for the survivors, their families and communities.
The apology was set to take place in the Tuesday legislature session at 10 a.m., just 12 to 14 hours after the invitations were received by those in the community.
Word spread quickly through phone calls and social media and Doukhobors across the globe made plans to watch the apology through live streams.
On Tuesday morning, many gathered in groups around computers and televisions, according to Doukhobors in the Castlegar area. However, as the session began, word once again began to spread — but this time it was that the apology wasn’t going to happen Tuesday morning, after all.
Regional District of Central Kootenay director Andy Davidoff, who is also a Doukhobor, said that a secondary notice went out from MLA Brittny Anderson’s office at 9:55 a.m.
“Anderson.MLA, Brittny would like to recall the message, ‘Doukhobor Apology,’” reads the statement sent to the Castlegar News.
“The B.C. government can’t invite New Denver survivors to a long-overdue historic event to right a wrong and then pull back the string as if they were all emotional yo-yos,” Davidoff said in a phone interview.
“Premier Eby and Attorney General Sharma had over six decades to prepare for this day and they ended up re-traumatizing the survivors and their loved ones. Their ineptitude and lack of sensitivity is surreal.”
Lorraine Saliken-Walton’s mother, father and uncle were among the children that were apprehended and confined at a former tuberculosis sanatorium in New Denver between 1953 and 1959.
She is part of the Lost Voices of New Denver, a group of people whose parents were among the children that were removed from their families, but have now passed away.
“For the survivors to be ripped open again to have to deal with this this morning, and then to be told it is cancelled,” said Saliken-Walton. “How many times do we have to break these people’s hearts?
“I am crying about it, because my parents aren’t here to hear about it. We have lived this our whole lives.”
Saliken-Walton said she knows of people as far away as Greece that had tuned in to watch the apology.
“It is so disappointing … It makes you wonder if they were just expecting to say ‘sorry’ like slapping lipstick on a pig.”
In an emailed statement, the Premier’s Office said they are currently working on finding a new date for an apology and more information will be released later.
“Work has been underway for some time, to present a formal apology and appropriate community supports for the role British Columbia played in this travesty,” said a spokesperson for the Attorney General in a statement emailed to Castlegar News.
“Our government has been working to deliver this apology, however we received concerns from the community that there wasn’t enough time to allow community members to fully participate in this important event … As we work to repair the damages of the past, we must do so in a way that is meaningful and supports healing for all.”
They said the apology will be rescheduled early in the new year to ensure “all those impacted can participate and commemorate in their own way.”
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