A group representing thousands of poor children who were shipped from Britain to Canada in past centuries, where many worked as child labourers, is pleased with a planned apology from the British prime minister.
Sidney Baker, 76, of Home Children Canada, said he also expects an apology from the Canadian government for the treatment of children who were scooped off streets in the U.K. and shipped to Canada between 1869 and 1939.
The British government said Sunday that Prime Minister Gordon Brown would apologize for child migrant programs that sent as many as 150,000 British children as young as three to Canada, Australia, and other former colonies with the promise of a better life.
“When I first heard about this I was over the moon,” Baker said in a telephone interview from his home in Sidney, B.C..
“We’ve been striving for this for so long.”
An estimated 100,000 children were sent to Canada, 30,000 of whom came from Barnardos, the largest of the 52 organizations that sent children to the former colonies.
Baker said the victims and their families have never asked for compensation from the Canadian government — only an apology.
He said the group has been told that Ottawa has been working on an apology for some time.
Baker claimed that “between three and half and four million Canadians are descendants of the Home Children.”
Canadian Citizenship and Immigration says on its website that many of the children, most of whom ranged from eight to ten years of age, came from families of the urban poor who could not care for them properly.
CIC says most of the children were runaways or abandoned, but some were also orphans.
Children were generally sent to Canada without the knowledge or permission of their parents, a move made legal by the British Parliament.
Studies show that more than two-thirds were abused by their patrons in Canada, Home Children says.
According to CIC, it was only after the death of one of the home-children at an Ontario farm in 1895, that Canadians would learn about the British program.
George Everitt Green, a young agricultural labourer from England, died seven months after arriving in Canada, his body emaciated and covered with sores, visible scars of the cruel treatment the CIS says he received from his employer.
Other home children committed suicide in Canada between 1923 and 1924, which prompted an investigation by the British Parliament and led to Canada’s Immigration Branch introducing a regulation in 1925 that prohibited charities from bringing children under 14 years of age to this country.
Intended to last three years, the ban was made permanent in 1928 and the program came to a halt in 1939.
Baker himself was sent to a Barnardo home outside London when he was two, after his father died and his mother attempted suicide.
He and his five brothers and sisters were sent to different homes and he only learned of their existence after doing research for the Home Children.
“When I came to Canada I thought I was alone in this world,” said Baker.
When British government records were opened to the public in 1996 Baker said he found his records and reconnected with his siblings in the U.K..
“I can tell you now, you can not imagine what that has done to my life,” an emotional Baker told The Canadian Press.
He moved to Canada with his wife in the 1960s after serving in the Royal Navy.
He said he got involved with Home Children Canada because many of the children who were shipped here came from the Barnardo homes — where he spent many years.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized Monday for the treatment of thousands of children shipped to Australia.
“We are sorry,” Rudd said. “Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care. Sorry for the tragedy — the absolute tragedy — of childhoods lost.”
There was no word on whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is in India for a three-day visit, would issue a similar apology.