Tiffany Crawford, Canwest News Service Published: Sunday, November 15, 2009
OTTAWA — The British government will apologize to the families of thousands of poor children who were shipped to Canada and Australia — where many were used as forced labourers and abused — according to an announcement Sunday that is being met with celebration in this country.
Between 1869 and 1948, more than 100,000 children were sent from Britain to Canada, while thousands more were sent to Australia and other former colonies of the British Empire, as part of the Child Migrants Program.
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.
Many Canadians wanted the children to work on their farms, said Sidney Baker, 76, who’s with Home Children Canada, an organization that has helped the victims find out where they came from. According to the organization, more than 10,000 records were deliberately falsified.
Mr. Baker said the apology, though long overdue, is welcomed by the surviving migrant children and their families.
“I think it is fantastic. It has taken them so many years,” Mr. Baker said. “When we had our first meeting, we asked the people what they wanted and they didn’t want money. They just wanted an apology and to find where they came from.”
He said the last children were shipped to Canada in 1948 and to Australia as late as 1969.
On Sunday, spokesmen for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced they would issue formal apologies for the Child Migrants Program.
Mr. Brown’s office said it would consult with representatives of the surviving children before making an apology next year, while Mr. Rudd said he will apologize Monday for his country’s role in the program, according to several British media reports.
The chairman of a parliamentary committee on health said Mr. Brown wrote to him to confirm he would issue an apology in the new year, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.
In an extract from the letter reported by the BBC, Mr. Brown said, “It is important that we take the time to listen to the voices of the survivors and victims of these misguided policies.”
There was no immediate word on whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was in India on Sunday, would also apologize for the abuse suffered by the children under the program in Canada.
Mr. Baker said he has worked closely with the surviving victims and has heard hundreds of shocking stories of abuse. He estimated that 66% of the children who were sent to Canada suffered some form of neglect or abuse.
“One man arrived and 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, and he was beaten,” Mr. Baker said.
“Then he got shipped to another farm and he was walking to school in the winter without shoes on.”
Mr. Baker said he would like to see the history of Child Migrants Program taught in Canadian schools.
“We tried for years to get recognition. When you go to schools they don’t want to talk about it. It’s a black spot in our history and they really don’t want to hear about it,” he said.
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.
“Children were not children back then. They were adults in training. Children were working in the mines in Nova Scotia,” Mr. Lorente said. “I wanted to get the home children to come forth and to be proud that they were child pioneers.”
Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/story.html?id=2226092#ixzz0XKlpslPD
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