Friday, 10 August 2012

CBC Contributes to Doukhobor Name Hijacking

Note: The following is an open letter to the Canadian Broadcasting Service with a plea to correct its stories on the Doukhobor Movement.

Anna Maria Tremonti
The Current, CBC Radio
P.O. Box 500 Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6

Dear Anna Maria Tremonti,

I am a regular listener to The Current, your excellent radio program on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). For decades my family considered the CBC as the 'gold standard' in journalism.

However, in the morning of August 7, 2012, Jim Brown hosted a documentary called 'An Apology for the Doukhobors', with an 20-minute segment by freelance journalist Kalyeena Makortoff, testimonies by several New Denver Survivors, and an interview with Dulcie McCallum, former Ombudsman for British Columbia who investigated the Survivors civil rights complaint 13 years ago in the interior of BC. The story began as follows:

'During the 1950s, Doukhobors in the Kootenay region of British Columbia rejected the provincial education system and refused to register births, marriages and deaths. They would march naked, home-school their children and set fire to buildings ...'

The story is very familiar to me because as an anthropologist, historian and published author, I have studied the Doukhobors for over 55 years.

I have already critically reviewed Makortoff's earlier story pointing out the genuine trauma of the children who experienced the New Denver Residential School from 1953 to 1959. (See: Review of News Article about Residential School Apology, 24 May 2012). I pointed out the need for (1) their parents to apologize for opposing their children from going to public school, as well as (2) for the government to apologize to all Doukhobors for mislabelling them as nudists, arsonists and bombers.

To maintain your high standard of journalism, please correct the following which I have found to be lacking in your current story:
  • Doukhobors and Sons of Freedom (or zealots, as I call them) are two separate groups. They are not the same even though there is a tendency for zealots to call themselves 'real' or 'only' Doukhobors.
  • Zealots did not evolve as a body in Russia, but in Western Canada. 
  • Doukhobors are not nudists, arsonists or bombers. These are actions of individual extremists who do not uphold the central Doukhobor beliefs of nonviolence, nonkilling, compassion, and love. (See: Confusing Doukhobors And Nudists, 1 Feb 2012)
  • After the 1895 arms burning in Russia, the Doukhobors ceased to be a sect, and became a "social movement."
  • Please be aware of the tendency of zealots to hijack the Doukhobor Movement as their own. 
You are no doubt aware that the media can make or break a story. Since the early 1900s, the Doukhobors have been maligned and misreported by much of the mass media. Largely, this has been aided by extremist elements, addicted to sensationalism, who are not Doukhobor in behaviour, such as those who strip, burn and bomb. This is an addiction of a real kind and a hijacking of the wider Doukhobor Movement. Yellow journalists find these stories attractive because they sell papers and make money for their owners — but it is bad journalism and is discriminatory.

Surely, CBC has a higher standard of truthfulness, fairness and balance than the yellow press! The Current is one of the flagships of your great public institution. Surely, you need to become educated on the Doukhobors, one of Canada's minority groups. Surely, you ought to distance yourself from the hijack model used by some of your competitors and fuelled by extremists with their own agendas. It is time for CBC to live up to its calling as a truly national institution that 'informs, enlightens and entertains'.

For  more information on the Doukhobors, see my 2002 book Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living, as well as my websites and Spirit-Wrestlers Blog.

In search of truth and fairness,

Koozma J. Tarasoff
Ottawa, Ontario Canada

cc. Jim Brown
August 9, 2012

CBC Response

On Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 5:21 PM, Audience Services <> wrote:
Dear Mr Tarasoff,

We received your letter in CBC National Audience Relations where we respond to audience correspondence. Thank you for sharing your views with The Current, CBC Radio 1.

On August 7, 2012, you wrote that you listened to The Current (hosted by Jim Brown) where you heard a presentation about the Doukhobors.  You wrote that you did not agree with some of the viewpoints presented on the show and you also shared information in your letter, that you felt was "lacking" in that report.

We have noted your comments in our weekly national audience reaction report that is circulated to executive and production teams across Canada. They will be made aware of your concerns on this subject.

We also appreciate that you have taken time to share your views with The Current and CBC RADIO.

Maza Molar
Communications Officer
On Wed. Oct 31, 2012, Koozma Tarasoff replied:

Dear Maza Molar,

I appreciated receiving a response from the CBC about my comments on a Current program hosted by Jim Brown. It is good to know that CBC cares for its listeners.

Thank you.
Koozma J. Tarasoff


  1. Excellent statement of the case.

  2. As a graduate of journalism, a writer and author, and above all else, a full-fledged Doukhobor, I find it not only distasteful but exceptionally ignorant on behalf of ANYONE who writes about the Doukhobors in a negative tone.

    For those of us who lived through those turbulent times, we, the Orthodox Doukhbors, were chastised by the government, the police, the authorities on the one hand, and terrified by the actions of the Sons of Freedom on the other hand, I am amazed that we came out of this not more scarred and societally deformed.

    I have never been a Sons of Freedom, or terrorist, as they are better known, but I have known a few of those terribly lost, yet dangerous people. Some of them came to my home and tried to kill my family but, unsuccessfully were unable to burn us out that time. I remember the stigma of having a russian name and being forced to sit in the back row of the classroom while so-called "better class of people" sat in front.

    Yes, the Sons of Freedom children have suffered through no fault of their own, but it is their parents who were the zealots, the terrorists, the malcontents who bled the Doukhobor society of its right to a peaceful and safe life.

    So how dare you, those of you, and you know who you are, write blasphemous untruths about something you know absoutely nothing about. Where is your professionalism and your human conscience that you are able to utter words that you dont know the truth about? Ms. Tremonti, you know better. I thought journalism was based on fact? I recall sitting in journalism class when my professor said to me "check your story, check your facts and then check them again before you put one single letter on that blank page before you. Never utter one word unless you know that it is an undeniable fact." What happened to that code of ethics?

    I am ashamed to say that over 50 years have passed and history still has no record of the truth.

    My grandfather once said to me "a word is like a stone, once you say it, it lives forever, but unlike stones that eventually turn into diamonds, words will remain emblazoned as good or evil."

    This entire never-ending barrage of blasphemous lies about Doukhobors are words that are just that.....pure evil. And those don't take the time to know the truth are the speakers of those words.

    I am truly ashamed of the canadian standard of journalism ethics.

    virginia svetlikov

  3. Thank you, Virginia...and Koozma, for your honest, truthful words! The Sons of Freedom children were not the only ones that suffered the consequences of their parents' terrorism. You and I, as Orthodox Doukhobor children also suffered. Not sleeping, being discriminated against, and many of us had their homes burnt! The fault should clearly continue to be channeled where it belongs. Right in the Freedomite parents' laps!
    The Sons of Freedom children were not at fault. They were innocent victims of their parents' civil disobedience. Who uses their children as pawns? Even in this present day, the authorities would take children away if a parent abuses them. The Sons of Freedom parents were monsters! This is what happenened and the truth needs to continue to be told. The Sons of Freedom children suffered parental abuse. The government actions were secondary.

  4. Gunter Schaarschmidt23 August 2012 at 07:28

    Koozma is to be highly commended on his tireless efforts to set the record straight when the media fail to do the necessary background research in their communications about the Doukhobor Community, lumping the Sons of Freedom together with the main movement. This is especially inexcusable in this day and age when such research is available with a couple of keystrokes: consulting the free encyclopedia on the web, “Wikipedia”, would have prevented the CBC from not making a clear distinction here.
    The other issue is that of an apology by the Government – that such an apology is sorely needed stems from the mere fact that the act of taking children away from parents in the desire to forcefully assimilate these children is a heinous crime under any circumstances. And although I sympathize with Koozma’s demand that before a Government apology is forthcoming the parents of the New Denver internees should apologize to the main group first, I do not see that waiting for such an apology as a precondition would be in the best interest of these internees. Koozma had pointed out the need for (1) their parents to apologize for opposing their children from going to public school, as well as (2) for the government to apologize to all Doukhobors for mislabelling them as nudists, arsonists and bombers. I believe that the internees need an unqualified apology from the Government now, in their best years of adulthood, in order to cope with some of the disastrous consequences of their internment as children and to begin engaging in the healing process.
    The two points raised by Koozma seem to me to be more of an internal matter requiring, in the end, a magnanimous act of forgiving.

  5. thank you, gunter
    for understanding that we "now adults" sorely need the
    government to apologize to begin proper healing.

  6. "Doukhobors and Sons of Freedom (or zealots, as I call them) are two separate groups. They are not the same even though there is a tendency for zealots to call themselves 'real' or 'only' Doukhobors."

    Separate groups? Yes, they were, but let's be cleat about a few facts. Sons of Freedom did not come from space. They have successfully recruited into their ranks from Community Doukhobors. This became possible because Sons' religious doctrine was nothing, but doukhobors' principles brought to their extreme and logical conclusion: anti-materialism and anti-governmentalism, that is a form of anarchism. To this end they were doukhobors in the purest form. There is a real reason behind the statement that they were "the only real" doukhobors. The acts of property destruction they committed followed from doukhobor beliefs.

    Second, let's not think of them as a small group. Their number was not negligeable; at the peak it was in thousands - quite comparable with the number of orthodox doukhobors. In many cases there were no clear division as to who is an orthodox doukhobor and who is a "zealot".

    Bottom line - picturing Sons as a separate splinter group that has nothing to do with doukhobors is nothing but an attempt at whitewashing the history and tribute to political correctness.


  7. Dear Koozma,

    Thank you for posting the letter you wrote to CBC on your blog. I did not listen to the CBC Current on the 7th. After Ms. Makortoff's piece appeared in the newspapers and I emailed my comments to her, she later asked me if I would be interested to further 'explore' the New Denver survivor's story on a documentary she was preparing for the CBC. Rightfully or not, I declined.

    I declined because of the very reasons you mentioned — publicity about the Sons of Freedom that still sells newspapers and attracts CBC listeners and the continuing saga of painting all Doukhobors with the same erroneous media brush.

    Mind you, I have to tread very carefully around the subject as friends of ours, who are members of the Calgary Doukhobor Cultural Society, have very good friends in the Kootenays who were children in New Denver. They thought the CBC program was excellent.

    Again, thank you for including my letter to the editor in your Review of News Article in this issue of The Dove. We may not make any new friends over the piece, but we do speak our own truth and continue to do so.

    Our best regards to you and Kristina,


    P.S. Koozma, just one point — I was never a public health nurse, only a hospital equipment planner!

  8. Email, August 8, 2012

    One of the reasons members of the Christian sect known as the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors left Russia for Canada was to be rid of government interference in their lives. Nevertheless, they found themselves on a collision course with the British Columbia government in the 1950s. Today, we look at how the ramifications of that conflict are still being felt today.