A group of 25 New Denver School survivors is calling on Premier David Eby to remove a declaration that the elements of the financial compensation package attached to the recent Sons of Freedom Doukhobor apology were “recommended by the Sons of Freedom community.”
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. They were placed in government institutions such as the New Denver School, a former tuberculosis sanatorium.
In his 2023 call for an apology and compensation, B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke estimated there were between 70 and 100 survivors still alive.
In an apology given in Castlegar on Feb. 1 and Grand Forks on Feb. 2, B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma promised $10 million for legacy initiatives to “help provide a deeper understanding of the impact of historical injustices, what is needed to prevent similar occurrences in the future and to help those impacted by these historical wrongs.”
The funding also included allocations for counselling services and other wellness initiatives.
However, the group of survivors say they were never consulted regarding the compensation package and were unaware of the recommendations.
“Premiere Eby, it is imperative we bring to your attention a significant error communicated in the apology,” states the group in a letter sent to Eby, Attorney General Niki Sharma, Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy, Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson and Boundary-Similikameen MLA Roly Russel. “It is stated in the apology that … ‘the Province of British Columbia will be contributing $10 million in funding to support legacy initiatives recommended by the Sons of Freedom community …’ This statement is incorrect and misleading.”
The letter goes on to state that the Sons of Freedom community did not provide any recommendations to the government regarding legacy initiatives.
The group believes the recommendations came from just a few people, the majority of whom were not survivors.
“That small number cannot speak for an entire community,” says the group.
In the days since the apology and funding announcement, a number of survivors have been vocal about their disappointment that the survivors themselves will not see any direct personal payments.
“We remain very disappointed in the concealed process that led to the legacy fund and compensation package brought forward by the Province of B.C. We do not agree with the B.C. government moving forward with the agreement without our participation,” said the group.
They are also requesting survivor involvement in determining how the funding will be structured and how decision making and distribution of the funding will occur.
In a response to a request from Castlegar News seeking clarification on the consulations, a spokesperson for the Attorney General said the government has been engaging in “extensive conversations” with various members of the Sons of Freedom and broader Doukhobor communities since 2019.
They said that included hearing directly from many survivors.
But the Attorney General declined to disclose who they spoke to or how many people were involved due to “privacy concerns.”
“Determining the most effective form of compensation (individual or community-based) for healing is a complex issue without a straightforward solution,” said the Attorney General’s spokesperson.
“While we understand that the package announced may not meet everyone’s expectations, we remain confident that it will help those affected access a wide range of resources for their healing journey.”
Eby is scheduled to make the apology a final time in the provincial legislature on Feb. 27.
The group is asking the premier to change the reference to the Sons of Freedom community recommending legacy initiatives before he issues that apology.
“This is an appeal for transparency, clarity and honesty,” says the group.