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Premier Eby apologizes for ‘screwing up’ Doukhobor apology

B.C. government first gave less than a day’s notice, then cancelled the apology event
Premier David Eby took the blame for the last-minute postponement of a Doukhobor apology when asked for an explanation at a Nov. 29 event to announce the completion of a University of Victoria housing project. Photo: Ella Matte

Premier David Eby is taking the blame for the postponement of a planned apology to the Doukhobour community for historical wrongs dating back to the removal of children from their homes in the 1950s.

On the evening of Nov. 27, select community members received invitations to watch the livestream of an apology set to take place during the Nov. 28, 10 a.m. session of the provincial legislature.

Just as the session was beginning, notifications went out from government representatives stating that the apology was not going to take place that day after all.

At a Nov. 29 event to announce the completion of a University of Victoria housing project, Eby was asked by a reporter why the Doukhobor community wasn’t consulted or given information about the planned apology sooner.

“It’s an example of a government with all good intentions wanting to get work done, wanting to move forward, and losing track of making sure that it is done right,” answered Eby.

“I understand people’s disappointment about that and just a commitment that we are going to do things right and sometimes that means recognizing when you are screwing up, and this was one of those occasions.

“I’ll take responsibility, this is an initiative out of the premier’s office. It should have been done and it wasn’t done. For anyone that that caused difficulty for, I want to apologize to them.”

Members of the Doukhobor community told Castlegar News that the short notice followed by the cancellation of the event was heartbreaking.

“Premier Eby and Attorney General Sharma had over six decades to prepare for this day and they ended up re-traumatizing the survivors and their loved ones,” said Regional District of Central Kootenay director Andy Davidoff.

“For the survivors to be ripped open again to have to deal with this, and then to be told it is cancelled,” said Lorraine Saliken-Walton, whose parents were placed in a New Denver residential school. “How many times do we have to break these people’s hearts?”

READ MORE: Province’s Doukhobor apology postponed last-minute

Eby said he made the decision to postpone the apology after it became clear that there hadn’t been an adequate opportunity for survivors or family members to come to Victoria to witness the event or arrangements made for people in places like Castlegar or Grand Forks to attend remotely.

He also remarked that apologies can be “done in a way that actually deepens the harm rather than recognizes and begins the work of building trust.”

“Knowing that some people had expectations that it would happen this week and that they may be disappointed — this is a community that already has trust issues with government — I felt the need for them to be physically present if they could be and the need for us to accommodate people in local communities was just too important to not say, ‘Let’s regroup, let’s make the right decision and let’s do this properly.”

RELATED: Doukhobor kids taken from homes in 1950s deserve compensation: report

Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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