A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-18
Late in the evening of October 28, 1924, Peter Verigin boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway train at Brilliant, British Columbia, the headquarters of the Doukhobor community. About one in the morning a horrific explosion blew away the roof and sides of the coach. Verigin and eight others perished in the explosion, which investigators on the scene quickly concluded was no accident.
Known by the single name “Lordly,” Peter Verigin lived like royalty among a group of Russian immigrants to Canada, the Doukhobors, whose motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life.” The Doukhobors preached equality and rejected the authority of both Church and State. As a result, they were persecuted in Russia. In 1902, their leader, Peter Verigin, and many of his community came to Canada to take up a new life.
Yet they did not find peace in Canada. Doukhobor protests against what they saw as governmental interference with their religious and political freedoms involved arson, public nudity, and refusal to pay taxes or send their children to school. Because of this unusual behaviour, many regarded the Doukhobors as undesirable citizens and they were under surveillance by the RCMP.
Did Canada live up to its promise as a land of religious tolerance and political freedom? Or were the rights of Doukhobors to live according to their deeply-held religious and social beliefs violated?
In this MysteryQuest you are invited to take on the role of a human rights advocate and prepare a legal opinion on the following question: Would government treatment of the Doukhobors in the early twentieth century have been legal if it had occurred today, under the guarantees provided by theCharter of Rights and Freedoms? You will focus your attention on Doukhobor conflicts with the authorities involving the freedom of conscience and religion.
First, you will learn about the Doukhobors and their history. You will use a timeline of this group’s struggles with authorities over three centuries to gather information about the nature of their conflicts and the basis for government attempts to assert authority over the Doukhobors. Next, you will read about the grounds upon which governments are permitted to limit a group’s fundamental rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You will examine primary documents from the early twentieth century, looking for evidence to determine whether or not the Doukhobors were legitimately exercising their freedom of conscience and religion and whether or not governments were justified in their responses. Finally, based on the evidence you find, you will prepare a legal brief or opinion on the legality, under the terms established by the Charter, of the historical respect by Canadian authorities for the Doukhobors’ freedom of conscience and religion.