More than 40 years after scores of Doukhobor children were rounded up by police with pitchforks and dogs and torn from their families, the survivors are suing the British Columbia government seeking an apology and compensation.
This was a dark chapter in the province's history. Survivors tell of hordes of RCMP officers swooping down on remote Doukhobor villages in the south-central Kootenay region of the province to remove schoolchildren. They recount being transported to a jail-like residential school where they were physically and psychologically abused.
Yesterday, 49 survivors filed a lawsuit against the government in the British Columbia Supreme Court alleging negligence, unlawful confinement and the forced removal from their homes and parents in the 1950s.
The lawsuit states that the children were denied proper access to their families, forbidden to practise religion or speak Russian, abused by excessive strappings and beatings, and denied proper food and health care.
"For the people we represent, this lawsuit is about restoring their dignity," lawyer Drew Schroeder said.
The suit comes two years after provincial Ombudsman Dulcie McCallum called on the government to compensate the 150 or so Doukhobor children and make "an unconditional, clear and public apology" to them in the legislature.
This never happened, Mr. Schroeder said.
In Victoria, Premier Ujjal Dosanjh deflected questions about the lawsuit or whether there would be an apology made to the survivors.
"I would have commented on if it wasn't before the court," Mr. Dosanjh said.
While he would not discuss details of the case, Attorney-General Graeme Bowbrick did not rule out the possibility of reaching an out-of-court settlement.
The police roundups took place when a Doukhobor sect known as the Sons of Freedom was engaged in protests against the government, including arson and public nudity. Many Sons of Freedom parents opposed government-controlled education and refused to send their children to public schools.
The children, aged 5 to 15, ended up at a former tuberculosis sanatorium in New Denver, about 100 kilometres north of Nelson, B.C. The school ran from 1953 to 1959.
Mike Verigin, now a Vancouver resident, remembers being dragged away from his home in Krestova, B.C., in 1955. He was 7. "I remember my last image being my mother fainting," he said yesterday. "I didn't know if she was alive or dead."