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Government finally agrees to Ombudsperson’s call to apologize for 1950s detention of Doukhobor children, but is vague on compensation

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Victoria – In a report released today, the BC Ombudsperson says government’s commitment to apologize later this year to surviving members of the Doukhobor community, who were apprehended, institutionalized and maltreated, as children in the 1950s, is a “momentous step.” However, he is “deeply disappointed” that the Attorney General is remaining vague about compensating the survivors, their families, and communities.

“I am relieved that government has indicated in its response to this report that, this fall, it will finally apologize for its harmful actions,” said Ombudsperson Jay Chalke. “This will be a welcome, albeit long-awaited, step toward justice. However, I am saddened and surprised that government is still not unequivocally committing to compensation, a critically important measure to right this historic wrong.”

Between 1953 and 1959 about 200 children were removed, sometimes forcibly, at the direction of government, from their parents who were Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, a group within the Doukhobor community in the West Kootenays known for their acts in opposition to government policies and regulations. Following the forced removal from their homes and separation from their families, many of the children were mistreated both physically and psychologically while confined over a period of six years in a former tuberculosis sanatorium in New Denver BC.

The Ombudperson’s report Time to Right the Wrong comes on the heels of recent complaints to the Ombudsperson from survivors about government inaction. Today’s report draws on information, including first-person accounts, from a 1999 BC Ombudsman investigation and report that made five recommendations to remedy the unfairness caused by the confinement of the children and renews the call for both an apology and compensation. Government’s response to the latest Ombudsperson report includes a new commitment to an apology but no commitment to compensation. Instead, government states it is preparing a “recognition package.”

“The government has not said what it is intending to include in this package or when it will be finalized and announced,” said Chalke. “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.” said Chalke. “I am calling on government to provide appropriate individual and community compensation. I will continue to monitor this recommendation from our 1999 report.”

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