New Denver Survivors still await ruling

Doukhobors removed from their home as children in the 1950s and sent to a New Denver residential school are still waiting for a ruling from the BC Human Rights Tribunal. An oral hearing concluded more than a year ago. - Courtesy Walter Swetlishoff
Doukhobors removed from their home as children in the 1950s and sent to a New Denver residential school are still waiting for a ruling from the BC Human Rights Tribunal. An oral hearing concluded more than a year ago.
— image credit: Courtesy Walter Swetlishoff

Thirteen months after an oral hearing into their human rights complaint concluded, a group of Doukhobors are still awaiting a decision.

The BC Human Rights Tribunal heard the complaint from a group known as the New Denver Survivors who say the government discriminated against them in its response to a 1999 ombudsman’s report. It suggested they were owed an apology and compensation after being removed from their homes in the 1950s and sent to a residential school.

If the tribunal chair finds the government breached the human rights code, it can award compensation for damage to dignity or self-respect.

The tribunal told the Star it couldn’t comment on when the decision will be ready, although its practice is to notify the parties beforehand and post the decision on its website at noon the next day.

“Because each case is different, the Tribunal cannot comment on how long it generally takes between the conclusion of a hearing and the date a decision is released,” it said in an email.

However, a review of tribunal decisions released since last August following oral hearings show the delay is unusual but not unheard of.

Of the 26 decisions in which dates were included, the time between the close of the hearing and the decision ranged between one week and 13 months, with the average being about six months.

The case that took longest to resolve involved a complaint against the Liquor Distribution Branch by a worker alleging discrimination due to physically disability. It was heard in October 2011 and took until November 2012 for the decision to be rendered.

It has been nearly nine years since the New Denver Survivors originally filed their case. The hearing, held in Nelson and Vancouver in January and February 2012, got off to a shaky start when the group’s lawyer quit for unexplained reasons.

Complainant Walter Swetlishoff then conducted the case himself. He couldn’t be reached for comment this week.

The tribunal heard testimony from the group that they were offered several million dollars for a research project to unearth documents related to their seizure as children. However, a retired bureaucrat refuted the claim, saying while such a project was considered, it had no firm price tag.

The tribunal also heard from former attorney general Geoff Plant, who insisted that for liability reasons a “statement of regret” was the best he could offer the survivors, rather than the apology they wanted.

The government seized nearly 200 school-age children between 1953 to 1959 and placed them in a former tuberculosis sanatorium because their parents refused to send them to school.

The ombudsman said the seizures were rationalized as necessary for the sake of the children’s education, but also because it would minimize their parents’ influence.

However, some children later alleged physical, sexual, and psychological abuse while in government care.

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