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Eby issues apology, as B.C. Doukhobor survivors ask for direct compensation

$10 million compensation package to be distributed through funds, but survivors want direct payment

Premier David Eby issued a formal apology to the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors in the Provincial Legislative Assembly on Tuesday.

Eby’s apology in Victoria followed apologies from Attorney General Niki Sharma in Castlegar on Feb. 1 and in Grand Forks on Feb. 2.

In the 1950s, hundreds of children of Sons of Freedom members were taken from their families and placed into forced-education facilities including a former tuberculosis sanatorium in New Denver in part because their parents opposed government rules and refused to send them to public schools.

About 100 survivors and family members travelled from Castlegar, Grand Forks and as far away as Whitehorse and Toronto to attend the apology.

After a statement from Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell welcoming the survivor attendees, the group watching from the gallery broke out in a traditional Doukhobor song.

Respectfully, MLAs waited until they were finished before proceeding with the business of the day.

All three apologies recognized that the children were mistreated both physically and psychologically while in provincial care.

“Children paid the price for the conflicts of adults,” said Eby.

“These actions caused immense and immeasurable harm. They also created anxiety for the broader Doukhobor community and even to families whose children were not seized.

“There is no more sacred a relationship than that of a parent and child. That relationship was broken for an entire community.

“The Province of British Columbia recognizes the hurt and trauma experienced by the Sons of Freedom and the broader Doukhobor community. Today, on behalf of the Province of British Columbia, we acknowledge and apologize for these past injustices.”

The apology includes a $10 million compensation package, first announced at the Castlegar apology.

The money has been divided into three funds: $5 million to create a Sons of Freedom Doukhobor Legacy Fund, $1.25 million to research and archive the history of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors and $3.75 million for a Health and Wellness Fund.

Details on how the money will be managed and distributed have not been released.

Since the compensation announcement, a number of survivors have voiced their disappointment in the compensation package and continued to do so at the apology event.

Those survivors say they would have preferred that financial compensation be given directly to the survivors.

One Krestova survivor summed up his feelings, “Once again, the government is telling us what they think is good for us.”

RELATED: Survivors and families say Doukhobor apology compensation falls short

Challenge from survivor representative

Following the session in the legislature, a reception for the survivors was held in the Hall of Honour.

The reception opened with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and traditional Doukhobor singing led by Lorraine Saliken-Walton whose mother, father and uncle were all interned in New Denver.

Eby said he was moved by the singing.

“This is not the end of our work together, this is the start of our work together as we strive to make right something that never should have happened.

“Too many are not here today, that should have been with us for this moment.”

Saliken-Walton thanked the government for the apology.

“We receive your apology with gratitude and grace, it has taken us 71 years, long years, to hear those words.”

She presented Eby and Sharma with handmade symbolic Doukhobour gifts and then made a big request.

“Mr. Premier, we are grateful that you have taken the time to make this apology and have committed $10 million towards righting this historic wrong,” said Saliken-Walton.

“But we would like a say in how that money is allocated.

“Mr. Premier, would you commit in front of all these people and witnesses to do the right thing and consult with our broader community … about how to compensate for the harm that was committed and the suffering that those children lived through?”

Eby responded with, “Absolutely we will work with you to make this right.”

After the event, Saliken-Walton clarified what she was asking the premier.

“What we have asked is that if he would sit down and discuss how that money is allocated.

“These people don’t need therapy, these people need monetary value to live out the rest of their life, at least with some dignity and respect.”

She also added that it is a “direct insult to the survivors that are left, and even us as the next generation, to say that we now need therapy and counseling.

“Those children needed therapy 71 years ago.”

Saliken-Walton said they would like to see the same type of personal compensation that other groups such as the Japanese, Metis and First Nations have received along with their formal apologies.

She said she is not 100 per cent satisfied with Eby’s answer but feels that they did get a commitment from him.

“I’m hoping that he follows through, that he will sit down and do consultation with us and actually hear what these survivors are asking for.”

With files from Wolfgang Depner.


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Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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