OTTAWA — Sen. Lynn Beyak — newly turfed from the Conservative caucus — is fundamentally unfit to represent the Canadian people, NDP MP Charlie Angus said Friday as he urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to use his influence to get her removed from the upper chamber once and for all.
In a letter to Trudeau following Beyak’s ouster late Thursday, Angus asks the prime minister to reach out to the independent and Liberal members of the Senate, among others, to convince them to “use the tools of the Senate” to finally put an end to what he calls an “egregious abuse of public office.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer kicked Beyak out of caucus after reports surfaced about letters of support she has posted on her personal Senate website — some of which he described as containing “offensive” and “unacceptable” expressions of racism against Indigenous Peoples.
The fact Beyak will continue to sit in the Senate is an affront to Canadian democracy, Angus suggests in his letter.
“These are not letters from constituents or an open dialogue on ideas,” he writes. “These letters are promoting an insidious negation of the lives, culture, rights and place of Indigenous people living in Canada.”
The letters —which remained on Beyak’s Senate site Friday — date back to March, when Beyak triggered an uproar in the upper chamber by suggesting that some good had come out of Canada’s government-funded, church-operated residential school system.
Most of them dealt with the history of residential schools, while others contained largely benign comments about Indigenous Peoples in general. But Scheer cited one in particular that suggested Indigenous people want things for “no effort” — a letter he said Beyak refused to take down.
“Promoting this comment is offensive and unacceptable for a Conservative parliamentarian,” Scheer said in his statement. ”To suggest that Indigenous Canadians are lazy compared to other Canadians, is simply racist.”
Angus, for his part, made it clear he doesn’t believe Beyak should be able to continue to sit in the Senate, which he says lacks the necessary system of checks and balances to properly deal with the situation.
“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 writes. “If reconciliation is to be made real, government institutions must not be undermined by those spreading an agenda of such clear malice and falsehood.”
Beyak could not be reached for comment following Scheer’s decision. Emails to her office went unanswered Friday and the voicemail box at her Senate office proved full.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett expressed disappointment at how long it took Scheer to kick Beyak out of the caucus, saying the delay allowed her to use her position to espouse her “ill-informed and offensive views” of history.
“Although Sen. Beyak has been finally removed from the Conservative caucus, it is more disappointing that her appointment by the Conservatives allows her to 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,” Bennett said in a statement.
In was in March 2017 that Beyak suggested residential schools 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.
That led to a chorus of calls for Beyak to step down from the committee.
Indigenous leaders in Manitoba and northern Ontario were unequivocal in calling for Beyak to quit.
“Her unparalleled praise of residential schools and smears of all First Nation leaders is not acceptable,” said Sheila North Wilson, a grand chief of an organization representing First Nations in northern Manitoba.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler called Beyak’s comments a national insult and unacceptable coming from a member of the Senate.
And, in an open letter to Beyak, the Anglican Church of Canada said that whatever good may have taken place, “the overall view is grim. It is shadowed and dark; it is sad and shameful.”
Beyak, who was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2013, was expelled from the Senate’s committee on Aboriginal Peoples about a month later by former party leader Rona Ambrose.
But last September, Beyak issued a letter calling for First Nations people to give up their status cards in exchange for a one-time cash payment and said they could then practise their culture “on their own dime.”
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 result was the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which was 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.