Speaking out against a racist voice in Canada’s Senate

by John Copley

(ANNews) – Indigenous Canadians have had a very tough road to hoe during the past couple of centuries and just when it appears that progress is taking place and truth and reconciliation is becoming a reality, up pops another negative voice to throw a wrench into what many Canadians and Indigenous leaders believe has been a slowly turning but forward-moving wheel of progress.

This time the voice belongs to Ontario Senator Lynn Beyak, who was appointed to that esteemed position in 2013 by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Maybe that explains it because the dissension she brings to the table is laced with a strong smell of racism, denial, historical ignorance, orchestrated explanation and rhetoric that defies reality. Her bias, unfounded diatribe and refusal to face reality has already cost her a seat in the Conservative caucus but there’s still one step to go – she needs to be removed from the Senate. It is impossible for her to fulfil her duties as one of Canada’s 105 senators, especially in light of the fact that the Canadian Senate’s purpose is to consider and revise legislation, investigate national issues, and most crucially according to the Constitution – give the regions of Canada an equal voice in Parliament.

Equality cannot be found in the offensive statements with racial undertones made by Beyak since her appointment to the Upper House of Canada’s Parliament; statements that include the comments she made shortly after Ottawa reorganized Indian and Northern Affairs Canada last summer.

“Let’s stop the guilt and blame and find a way to live together and share,” Beyak stated, suggesting that First Nations “trade your status card for a Canadian citizenship, with a fair and negotiated payout to each Indigenous man, woman and child in Canada, to settle all the outstanding land claims and treaties, and move forward together. All Canadians are then free to preserve their cultures in their own communities, on their own time, with their own dime.”

Beyak, born in Ontario in 1949, has no understanding of right and wrong, especially when it comes to the comments she’s made about Canada’s Aboriginal citizens. Since being appointed to the Senate Beyak’s reputation has been sliding into the abyss.

Once lauded for her business acumen in both the insurance and real estate industries, Beyak has now become a scourge of the nation, disliked by her fellow senators, chastised by her own government, put in her place by Canada’s Indigenous leaders and ridiculed across the nation in headlines and articles that portray her as a condescending, unrepentant social miscreant whose words are not only opening old wounds, but also tearing new rifts in what has been a slow but steady movement toward long-sought reconciliation.

Among other comments she’s made during the past four years Beyak has referred to Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy as “brilliant” and that the “good deeds” of “well-Intentioned” Indian Residential School workers were discounted by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that put too much emphasis on the premeditated and systematic plan to rid Indigenous people of their languages, cultures and sense of self-worth through constant beatings, starvation, the eradication of personal liberties and decades of medical, mental and physical experimentation that embraced verbal, sexual, mental, emotional and psychological abuse.

Political, social and Indigenous leaders from across the country have expressed everything from disbelief to outrage that a Canadian Senator could be as socially and historically ignorant and incorrect as Beyak has proven to be. 

There is no simple solution to the Beyak problem; as a Senator she can sit almost untouched, until she’s 75 years old. That means unless something is done she can sit back for the next seven years and collect her $140,000 a year salary before resting on her laurels with the big fat monthly pension cheque that will accompany her retirement.

Removing Beyak from the Senate may prove to be more difficult than the average Canadian may realize – unless she makes false claims on her residency, defaults to public lenders, is convicted of a felony, declares bankruptcy or fails to show up for two consecutive sessions of Parliament.

In a statement, Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous stated that it’s “disappointing” the Conservative leadership failed in preventing Beyak from using her position as senator to “espouse her ill-informed and offensive views about Canadian history.”

She went on to note that

“although Senator Beyak has been finally removed from the Conservative caucus, it is more than disappointing that her appointment by the Conservatives allows her continue to use parliamentary resources to validate the views of those who refuse to accept the truth and propagate the misinformation and prejudice that continue to feed racism in our country.”

Beyak most recently used her Senate webpage to post “letters of support” which contained racist comments about Indigenous Canadians.

“Many of these letters contain a great deal of misinformation as well as outright racist stereotypes that have no place in our tolerant and inclusive society,” Minister Bennett and Minister Jane Philpott stated.

“Government resources should never be used to promote hatred and divisiveness. It concerns us that, by being hosted on the official website of the Senate of Canada, these offensive comments could be construed to be endorsed by Parliament.”

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Timmons-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus called Beyak’s ongoing and disparaging remarks an “egregious abuse of public office” and noted that “in terms of what can be done now in the absence of any clear tools of accountability I would remind you that as prime minister your words carry an enormous moral weight.”

He urged the Prime Minister to speak with Liberal and independent senators to address “Beyak’s fundamental unfitness to serve as a representative of the Canadian people.”

He wants to see senate reform happen quickly because it isn’t working the way it is set up today.

“Given Canada’s constitutional shortcomings regarding the Senate,” noted Angus, “there is no credible system of checks and balances to limit her ability to utilize the enormous resources of the Senate to engage in this spurious campaign of hateful misinformation. There was no credible vetting process to determine if this person was even fit to sit in the Senate in the first place. If the Senate is to play any role as a credible political force in the 21st century, these glaring shortcomings must be addressed.”

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