Canada shows no sign of apology to migrant children

Posted by admin on Nov 16th, 2009

By Tiffany Crawford, Canwest News Service. November 16, 2009

OTTAWA — The Canadian government is showing no signs of an apology to the families of thousands of poor children who were shipped to Canada and Australia from Britain — children who were often abused and forced into labour. Between 1869 and 1948, more than 100,000 children — known in this country as the “home children” — were sent to Canada, while thousands more were sent to Australia and other former colonies of the British Empire, as part of the Child Migrants Program. On Monday, the Australian government issued a formal apology. The children, often taken without the knowledge of their parents under a government-sanctioned program, were promised a better life but many were abused or forced into labour against their wishes. Some children were told their parents were dead.

The majority of the children were sent to Canada because it was cheaper than sending them to Australia. When asked whether Canada would issue an apology, a statement issued from the office of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said only that a bill was before Parliament to designate 2010 as the Year of the British Home Child.

“Minister Kenney is personally supportive of the motion,” said Alykhan Velshi. “Canada Post also plans to issue commemorative stamps on the home child this year.”

Velshi said Kenney also plans to incorporate acknowledgment of the home child in citizenship ceremonies.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s officials, travelling with Harper in India, referred questions to Kenney.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized Monday for years of abuse suffered by children, while officials with the British government said Britain also plans to say sorry. Brown’s office said Sunday it would consult with representatives of the surviving children before making an apology next year.

On Monday, Rudd told an audience of about 900 former orphans, known as the Forgotten Australians, that the abandoned policy was a shameful and ugly period in history which led to suffering, emotional damage and an absence of love and care.

“We look back with shame that so many of you were left cold, hungry and alone and with nowhere to hide and nobody, absolutely nobody, to whom to turn,” Rudd said in a speech at parliament.

It also followed Rudd’s 2008 apology to the so-called Stolen Generation of Aborigines, who were taken from their families to be raised in institutions and white homes under assimilation policies which ran until the late 1960s.

As in Australia, Canadian children suffered tremendous abuse, said Sidney Baker, 76, who’s with Home Children Canada, an organization that has helped the victims find out where they came from. Baker said he has worked closely with the surviving victims and has heard hundreds of shocking stories of abuse. He estimated that 66 per cent of the children who were sent to Canada suffered some form of neglect or abuse.

He described one situation where a child lived in the shed with the dog and the family would come out with a tin plate for the dog and a tin plate for him. He said that child was also beaten and forced to walk to school in the winter without shoes on.

According to the organization, more than 10,000 records were deliberately falsified. Baker said Britain’s apology will be welcomed by the surviving migrant children and their families, but their main concern has always been “to find where they came from.”

Baker also said he would like to see the history of Child Migrants Program taught in Canadian schools.

Founder of Home Children Canada Dave Lorente, whose father was a child migrant, said he would like to see the Canadian government acknowledge the home children, but he cautioned against people making legal claims, saying it was a different time, particularly during the Great Depression, when it was common for children to work.

Lorente said he started the organization so that the home children would come forth and “be proud that they were child pioneers.”

With files from Reuters

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