Over a year after the case was heard in Nelson, a discrimination complaint brought against the provincial government by a group of Doukhobors has been rejected.
In her 76-page ruling released Friday, tribunal member Enid Marion concluded there was no evidence the government discriminated against the group, known as the New Denver Survivors, in its response to a 1999 ombudsman’s report. The latter suggested they were owed an apology and compensation for being sent to a New Denver residential school in the 1950s.
“While I may sympathize with their personal feelings about this issue, I cannot conclude, based on the limited evidence before me, that the Survivors’ race, ancestry or religion was a factor in the Ministry’s refusal to implement any of the report’s recommendations,” Marion wrote.
“I also appreciate that the Survivors felt deeply hurt and offended by the Ministry’s refusal to formally apologize to them, despite their consistent expression of need for a real and sincere apology in order to truly heal. The value of a sincere apology cannot be underestimated.”
Elsie Eriksen, among four Survivors who testified at the tribunal hearing, told 103.5 The Bridge she was surprised and disappointed with the ruling. “I was expecting some justice finally,” she said, “but I guess justice is not to be done for us.”
Eriksen said she and others had been pinning their hopes on a positive outcome and will have to discuss if there is anything more than can do. Some, she expects, have already given up.
“Of course that happens,” she said. “People get their hopes up, then they get dashed and they say ‘ah, it’s not worth it.’ Because it’s very emotional and taxing. I thought it would be different this time, but it’s not. It’s frustrating.”
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.
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.
Marion said she accepted that no financial offer was made by the ministry.
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.