Conservative senator under fire for comments on residential schools

Sen. Lynn Beyak said residential schools were not all bad

OTTAWA — Conservative MPs distanced themselves from one of their own Thursday after a Tory senator suggested there were positive aspects to Canada’s residential school system.

Caucus members, including Tory indigenous affairs critic Cathy McLeod, made it clear they do not support or agree with Sen. Lynn Beyak, appointed to the upper chamber by former prime minister Stephen Harper.

On Wednesday, Beyak told the Senate that the government-funded, church-operated schools where indigenous children endured widespread sexual and physical abuse were not all bad.

“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.

Beyak’s remarks do not reflect the views of the Conservative party, McLeod said in a statement, adding the comments are both disturbing and hurtful to survivors.

Harper and the previous Conservative government acknowledged these harms and delivered a formal apology in the Commons in 2008 to former students, their families, and communities for Canada’s role in the operation of the residential schools, she added.

Beyak’s claim that some good resulted from residential schools is false, NDP indigenous affairs critic Romeo Saganash said Thursday — himself a residential school survivor.

“When we are talking about residential schools, we are talking about genocide,” he said outside the Commons “What Hilter did was genocide … There is no good side about what Hilter did.”

There is no room in Parliament for such attitudes, Saganash added, noting the federal government should also call for Beyak’s resignation.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett did not call for Beyak’s removal from the Senate, but called her comments unfortunate and misguided, adding they serve as evidence of a need to educate Canadians about the long-standing legacy of the schools.

Murray Sinclair, an independent senator who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s exhaustive investigation into the impact of residential schools, was present in the upper chamber during Beyak’s remarks on Wednesday.

He said he was a bit shocked that his Senate colleague held views that have been proven incorrect, but he accepted her right to hold them.

The work of the commission lead by Sinclair was the result of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, reached after residential school survivors took the federal government and churches to court with the support of the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit organizations.

It was designed to help repair the lasting damage caused by the schools, and — in addition to compensating survivors — to explore the truth behind the program that ran from the 1870s to 1996.

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