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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
'Stolen children' demand Canada apology
A group of Canadians who were taken from their families as children in the 1950s are demanding a full apology, saying a provincial official's expression of "deep regret" is not enough.

The Doukhobors - a Christian community who fled persecution in Russia and arrived in Canada in the late 18th Century - have been pursuing their case for 50 years, when the first of 170 children began being removed from their families.

Doukhobors in modern-day Georgia (Photo: BBC Russian service)
The Doukhobors are descended from Russian immigrants
The government of British Columbia acted in an effort to combat a number of attacks being made by a radical Doukhobor group called the Sons of Freedom.

This group had sought to prevent Doukhobor children being taught in state schools.

Their campaign - underscored by a belief that Canadian education led to war - began to turn violent, with schools being targeted in arson attacks.

In response, British Columbia police began to take Doukhobor children to a secure government residential camp in the town of New Denver.

During that time, there were allegations of maltreatment and assaults at the camp.

"The apology is important because the children were living in real isolation, as if they'd done something wrong," Walter Swetlishoff, one of the so-called "New Denver survivors", told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"Their life always consisted of thinking that it was their fault."

'Horrific' conditions

Earlier this month, British Columbia's Attorney General Geoff Plant said he extended "my sincere, complete and deep regret for the pain and suffering you experienced during the long separation from your families".

This stopped short, however, of being a public apology. Mr Plant said the government was afraid of lawsuits were it to apologise.

I suspect the reason the government is not giving an apology is because it was drastic and criminal
Walter Swetlishoff,
New Denver 'survivor'
Mr Swetlishoff, who was taken to New Denver at the age of 11 after four years effectively on the run with his family, said he felt an apology was important to make sure such treatment does not happen again.

"To me, myself and the Doukhobor children were taken away not [for] education, but [because the authorities] felt that the parents were difficult because they had this religion," he said.

"So it was more like a punishment for the parents. I suspect the reason the government is not giving an apology is because it was drastic and criminal... to accept that is just too much liability."

He said an inspection found that beds in New Denver were crammed so close together they were touching, and there was no heating, meaning children slept in their clothes.

"Five mothers managed to sneak into the sanatorium - when they saw their children freezing, they were just appalled," he added.

"The ombudsman described the building conditions as 'horrific'."

Burning schools

The British Columbia government of the 1950s acted in response to the Sons of Freedom's efforts to keep their children away from public education.

The radical Doukhobors feared state education would promote aggressive tendencies and lead to war.

They believed everything a Doukhobor child needed would come through the family and the community.

British Columbia provincial government building
British Columbia has refused to apologise
"They were concerned about materialism and its adverse affect on them - and one way of [fighting it] was by using the purgative effect of fire," Dr John McLaren, of the University of Victoria, told Outlook.

"But then the idea began to spread - they burned schools, and there were some bombings."

Eventually the conflict led to deaths - the earliest recorded case being a young Sons of Freedom member who had a bomb in his car.

"There's no doubt at all that the Sons of Freedom were a difficult group to deal with," Dr McLaren said.

"They had this quite utopian idea that they could live in isolation from the rest of society. The question is whether it was advisable for the state to take their children as a means of forcing compliance."

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