Doukhobor children suing B.C. for settlement

Doukhobor children suing B.C. government for 50-year-old camp internments

A group of British Columbia residents is fighting the provincial government for restitution after being forced into camps during a religious dispute 50 years ago.

In the 1950s, the province's Social Credit government ordered the RCMP to round up children of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors and place them in a camp in the remote interior town of New Denver. The government had been locked in a fierce, ongoing battle with the religious sect, which used arson and bombings in their campaign.

Irene Popoff was removed from her Doukhobor home in Krestova when she was nine, along with her sister. They were forced to spend six years in the camp, meeting with their parents every two weeks through a chain link fence.

She says 150 Doukhobor children paid for the politically motivated violence of those fighting for religious freedoms.

"A harm was done to innocent children because of political stuff that we knew nothing about," said Popoff.

B.C.'s ombudsman ruled on the matter three years ago, ordering the then New Democrat government to apologize for the internment and pay restitution to the so-called "Children of New Denver." But they never acted on the report.

The province's new Liberal government decided it would fight the ruling in court.

Drew Schroeder, a lawyer who represents 49 of the former camp children now in their 40s and 50s, says he's appalled at the government's decision.

"Quite frankly it is shocking," Schroeder said. "The ombudsman expressly recommended the government apologize and pay restitution and don't have them go through the harshness of having to litigate."

On Monday, government lawyers will argue that the current administration is not responsible because the event occurred so long ago.

But Schroeder says some of the children were subjected to "sexual misconduct," which means the limitations act would not apply.