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BC Government allocates $10 million for reconciliation efforts with Sons of Freedom families

“It was important to be there with them,” said BC Attorney General Nikki Sharma.

The BC Government has formally issued its apology and compensation for the historic wrongs committed against the children of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobours, who were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in residential schools in the 1950s.

Attorney General Nikki Sharma was in Castlegar Wednesday to issue the first of two apologies in the region. She’s scheduled to be in Grand Forks to issue the same apology Friday.

Sharma said the apology was a long time coming and acknowledged that the trauma inflicted on the Sons of Freedom community almost 70 years ago shouldn’t have happened.

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“These people and their families have been waiting for an official apology from the government to acknowledge the harm and the trauma that they’ve lived with,” she said.

“It was really important for the province to deliver an official apology and acknowledge that what happened was wrong and it shouldn’t have happened.”

In 1899, the Doukhobors fled to Canada after being persecuted in Russia, with many settling in the Kootenay boundary region.

The Sons of Freedom, a small group within the Doukhobor community, were targeted by the province from 1953-1959 for accusations of civil disobedience, according to a media release from the province.

The group faced fines, property seizure, and prison, with their children taken from their homes and placed in residential schools.

Sharma said the trauma that the children went through is still evident in their faces, explaining how she heard stories from the survivors about being hunted, and separated from their families while trying to hide from police to avoid being taken.

“The trauma that they faced is still carried with them. You could see in their faces, that the trauma and the pain were just as strong as when it happened. It was important to be there with them, and I hope that through the official apology and the $10 million that’s going to go towards helping to make it better, I hope that there’s some peace that they can have.”

The $10 million compensation package has three approaches. Sharma explains that $5 million will support a legacy fund referred to as the Sons of Freedom Doukhobor Legacy Fund, which will promote the community’s cultural heritage and support education initiatives and cultural programs.

$1.5 million is allocated for research and archival services, and $3.7 million will support a health and wellness fund that focuses directly on the needs of survivors.

Sharma says the funding allocation was determined through consultation with the Sons of Freedom Doukhobor community, adding that she hopes they feel like their needs were met.

“We’ve been in our office, on the phone talking to a lot of survivors, and we heard there is a real need to document and collect the stories on what happened, and I hope that the apology and compensation package lands in a way where they can see that they’re reflected in what they asked for.”

Sharma said the apology was an important step in the healing process for the survivors and explained that her government’s decision to postpone its original apology scheduled for last November was done to ensure it was done in a meaningful, inclusive way.

“We felt like the apology that we had scheduled in the legislature wouldn’t be as important to some of the survivors, particularly the ones that are not able to travel very far or they’re elderly.  We postponed to make sure that we were able to get out to communities like Castlegar and Grand Forks, where we know a lot of survivors and their descendants live.”

She adds that this apology was an important step not just for reconciliation with the Sons of Freedom group but all marginalized communities who have faced hardship at the hands of the government.

“We know as a government; we have to step up to acknowledge these historic wrongs so we can all move forward together. We can’t move forward in society until we acknowledge our history. I was really glad to be here today for the Doukhobor community.”

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