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Premier’s ‘screw-up’ nothing new: New Denver survivor

Last week’s postponement of a government apology to Sons of Freedom Doukhobor children sent to residential school in the 1950s came as a disappointment but no surprise to one of them.

Walter Perepelkin, who was 10 when he and his seven-year-old brother were taken from their parents and sent to New Denver, says the last-minute cancellation of the apology in the BC legislature is just the latest in a long series of letdowns.

Premier David Eby said he took responsibility, calling the single day’s notice and then abrupt change of plans a “screw-up.” An apology is now expected to come in February.

Perepelkin said while he expected New Denver survivors would finally hear the words they have been asking for, the delay continues a long line of government errors.

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“The first screw-up was in 1953 when they took the kids away from their parents and put them behind a fence,” he said. “Then in 2004, there’s another screw-up, the statement of regret. I think it’s just a strategy they’re using, and it’s terrible because what does it do to the survivors left? It’s very wrong and they need a much better explanation.”

In 1999, the BC Ombudsperson’s office said the approximately 200 children deserved an apology and compensation for their mistreatment. Five years later, the best the government could offer was a non-apology for fear of exposing itself to litigation. Legislation subsequently made apologies inadmissible in civil proceedings, clearing the way for a more fulsome statement, but the matter stalled until the late 2010s.

This year, the Ombudsperson’s office published a follow-up report containing a response from government suggesting an apology would finally be forthcoming this fall.

Perepelkin said MLA Katrine Conroy phoned him to personally apologize for the delay, which was attributed to a desire to allow survivors to be present in Victoria to hear it. However, he’s not sure whether it’s important for him to be there.

He added he is in the dark as to who has been consulted on how the apology should roll out and is frustrated that it continues to be elusive.

“I could see at the beginning, maybe they’re not prepared, but when it’s happening over and over again? Something is not right.”

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