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Premier Eby apologizes to Son’s of Freedom survivors, faces criticism over compensation package

BC Premier David Eby has issued his formal apology for the historic wrongs committed against the Sons of Freedom Doukhobor community, but some survivors are unhappy about his government’s $10 million compensation package.

In the Legislature Tuesday, Eby acknowledged the generational trauma endured by the Sons of Freedom Doukhobor children, who were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in residential schools in the 1950s.

“They were mistreated physically and psychologically. Parents and other adult relatives could only visit their kids through the barrier of a chain-length fence. As a father, I ache to imagine that pain, where children paid the price for the conflicts of adults,” said Eby.

“There is no more sacred relationship than that of parent and child. That relationship was broken for an entire community. The resulting harms have echoed for generations. Today, on behalf of the province of British Columbia, we acknowledge and apologize for these past injustices.”

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The province has allocated $10 million in compensation for the Sons of Freedom Community, which was announced by Attorney General Nikki Sharma when she issued two other apologies in Castlegar and Grand Forks earlier this month.

Sharma said the compensation package will support archival, education, and heritage initiatives, and a health and wellness fund focused directly on the needs of the survivors.

However, BC’s Ombudsperson Jay Chalke said in a statement after Eby’s apology that while the Doukhobor community appreciates the apology, he wants the province to consider providing individual compensation to survivors and their families so they can access the support they need, in whatever way necessary, to support their healing.

“Today’s apology finally, 70 years after these tragic events, is a meaningful and essential step forward,” and I appreciate this government doing what so many previous governments were unwilling to do,” stated Chalke.

“However, there is more to do. The Doukhobor community deserves a meaningful commitment from the government to right this long-standing wrong and trauma that continues to this day. That’s why I remain frustrated that the individual compensation our office has been recommending for more than 20 years has still not been clearly promised.”

After Sharma issued her apology in Castlegar, Lucy Tomlin, spokesperson for her husband Larry who was placed in a New Denver residential school at age 8, expressed her dissatisfaction with the compensation package, stating that her husband and family want direct compensation for his suffering.

“My husband accepts the apology, but he does not accept the package. In my husband’s case, he couldn’t hold a job all these years. His mental state was not good, he was sexually abused, emotionally abused, beaten up with boxing gloves,” she said.

“There was no update on where he was or how he was doing. For three years he was in New Denver being punched out and not fed and more. Now we are raising three kids, and we would like the package in money so we can bring up these kids, because a pension won’t do it and he couldn’t work to save money. The apology would be more sincere if they paid for their wrongs and helped us out.”

The office of the Ombudsperson said it will continue to hold the province to account as it follows through on the Premier’s commitments to continue working with the Doukhobor community on the compensation package.

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