Beyak: ‘serious threat to freedom of speech’

Senator says ‘silent majority’ supports her on residential schools

OTTAWA — Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak says her party’s decision to sanction her for comments about Canada’s residential school history amounts to a threat to freedom of speech.

In a statement released Thursday, Beyak — who was removed Wednesday from the Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples — says political correctness is “stifling opinion and thoughtful conversation.”

She also says a silent majority of Canadians agree with what she said — that there were “good deeds” and other positive elements that emerged from the country’s residential school system.

“For me to lose my position on the Aboriginal Peoples committee for complimenting the work of nurses, teachers, foster families and legions of other decent, caring Canadians — along with highlighting inspiring stories spoken by aboriginal people themselves — is a serious threat to freedom of speech,” Beyak writes.

“Too often, on a broad range of issues, a vocal minority cries foul and offence whenever a point of view is raised that does not align with their own.

“Meanwhile, the silent majority, who are contributing to this country by working, building and selling things, taking care of their parents and children, are left thinking they are alone.”

Free speech does not apply to “people that celebrate genocide,” NDP indigenous affairs critic Romeo Saganash, a residential school survivor, said outside the House of Commons on Thursday.

Beyak made the comments early last month in a speech focused on highlighting the need to track federal spending on indigenous issues.

“I speak partly for the record, but mostly in memory of the kindly and well-intentioned men and women and their descendants — perhaps some of us here in this chamber — whose remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part and are overshadowed by negative reports,” she said at the time.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent six years examining the legacy of the government-funded, church-operated schools, infamous hotbeds of abuse and mistreatment that operated from the 1870s to 1996.

The comments touched off a firestorm inside and outside the upper chamber that divided her own caucus, which ultimately decided to remove her from the committee.

In her statement, Beyak said she believes the experience has revealed to her how difficult it is to have a “balanced, truthful discussion about all issues affecting Canadians.”

Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier says he’s happy to count Beyak among his supporters, despite the comments.

Late Wednesday, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose removed Beyak from the committee, but stopped short of kicking her out of caucus.

“I congratulate Rona Ambrose for removing her from the committee but that’s not enough for me,” Saganash said Thursday. “She needs to resign, and the sooner the better.”

A spokesman said Ambrose has been clear Beyak’s views don’t reflect the Conservative party’s position — a sentiment Bernier echoed earlier this week in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Bernier called the schools a dark part of Canada’s history and said he stands by the decision to remove Beyak from the committee. But the former Conservative cabinet minister is defending her right to express her opinion.

“I think political correctness has gone a bit overboard,” Bernier said in a statement of his own. ”As parliamentarians, we are allowed to have different views and to debate them. And I’m happy to have the senator’s endorsement.”

In an open letter released Thursday, indigenous members of the Liberal caucus urged Ambrose to take further action.

“We must ask: How can the Conservative caucus truly address the horrific legacy of residential schools when one of their own continues to openly hold these views?” read the letter.

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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