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Government apologizes for historic wrongs against Sons of Freedom

CANADA, February 1 - Community programs, research, education, wellness and mental-health supports are part of a $10-million compensation package announced to provide lasting recognition of historical wrongs committed by the Province of B.C. against the Sons of Freedom Doukhobor and their families.

Attorney General Niki Sharma announced the package, on behalf of Premier David Eby, at an event held in Castlegar as part of a formal apology to the community. She was joined by Katrine Conroy, MLA for Kootenay West; Brittny Anderson, MLA for Nelson-Creston; and Roly Russell, MLA for Boundary-Similkameen. The Attorney General will also attend a community event in Grand Forks on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. Premier Eby will also deliver the apology in the legislature on Feb. 27, 2024.

“After many years of unrest and troubled relations, the Province forcibly removed children from their homes and communities, leaving parents to visit kids through chain link fences,” said Premier Eby. “Courts would not let this happen today, and it should not have happened then. There is no more sacred a relationship than parent and child, and that relationship was broken for a whole community, resulting in harms that have echoed for generations. Today, we acknowledge the pain experienced by Sons of Freedom Doukhobor children and families. We will be offering an official apology on behalf of the Province of British Columbia later this month.”

After being persecuted in Russia, the Doukhobors fled to Canada in 1899, with many settling in the Kootenay Boundary region in B.C. During the first half of the 20th century, the Province targeted the Sons of Freedom, a group within the Doukhobor community, with fines and seizure of property for acts of civil disobedience, such as missing school and protesting nude. In addition to imprisoning adults between 1953 and 1959, hundreds of children from the Sons of Freedom were forcibly removed from their families and placed in institutions.

“We know this apology and recognition of past actions is long overdue,” said Niki Sharma, Attorney General. “An apology is not enough to undo the trauma that the Sons of Freedom and their families endured, but we hope it can offer some relief for those who have carried this burden for so long. Our government is committed to accountability and transparency, to ensure that such harm never happens here again.”

The $10-million initiative is a result of engagement with the community and will include funding to:

  • preserve and promote the community’s cultural heritage and historic sites;
  • support educational and cultural programs;
  • conduct research and archive vital documents and oral histories; and
  • expand access to mental-health services and wellness programs.

These initiatives aim to preserve the community's history and experiences, and to foster a deeper understanding of the impact that historical injustices can have on survivors.

Quotes:

Katrine Conroy, MLA for Kootenay West

“The apology given today by the Government of B.C. to the Sons of Freedom Doukhobor community has been long delayed and it is important that it has occurred. It is important for the survivors and their families to hear those words — ‘We are sorry’ — and critical for all of us as a province to acknowledge when harm has been done and to apologize for it. Through their example of toil and peaceful life, the community has shown great patience, and we hope this apology brings some peace to their lives.”

Brittny Anderson, MLA for Nelson-Creston

“Nothing can take away the pain that the Sons of Freedom children, their families and communities suffered when they were removed from their homes and placed in the New Denver institution. However, I am grateful that the day has finally come that we, as government, are formally acknowledging and apologizing for the historical injustices, and that supports are being provided to help address the intergenerational trauma that has been experienced by these survivors and their families.”

Roly Russell, MLA for Boundary-Similkameen

“Government actions decades ago caused enormous trauma in these communities. I deeply appreciate that Premier Eby and Attorney General Sharma recognize the importance of acknowledging these historic wrongs, and that they are formally apologizing for the harms done. The Sons of Freedom have been waiting 70 years for this and I hope these actions offer some solace and comfort to all those directly and indirectly impacted.”

A backgrounder follows.