OTTAWA — Sen. Lynn Beyak could face an ethics investigation to determine if letters on her Senate website promote hatred against Indigenous people.
Several of Beyak’s colleagues have requested a review by the Senate’s ethics officer, following the newly independent senator’s refusal to remove the offending letters from her parliamentary website.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer booted Beyak from his party’s caucus last week after, he said, she’d rejected his request to delete the letters. He said neither she, nor racism, have a place in the Conservative Party of Canada.
On Monday, five independent senators wrote to Senate ethics officer Pierre Legault, asking him to determine if the letters promote hatred or racism, and whether Beyak’s actions reflect poorly on the Senate or on her as a senator.
If they do, that would be a violation of the Senate’s Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code, contended senators Raymonde Gagne, Francis Lankin, Ratna Omidvar, Chantal Peticlerc and Andre Pratte.
The five, all of whom were appointed in 2016, said they support free speech but that freedom does not include the right to promote hatred or racist sentiments.
They also want the Senate’s administrative body to determine if posting the letters is a misuse of Senate resources.
The controversy stems from letters from Canadians posted in response to Beyak’s comments last spring in praise of the residential school system and to additional comments months later in which Beyak advised Indigenous people to give up their status cards, stop asking for handouts and practise their culture “with their own dime.”
Beyak has complained that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused too much on the negatives of residential schools, which were run by churches on behalf of the federal government in an attempt to assimilate Indigenous children to non-Indigenous communities and cultures. The commission’s final report in 2015 labelled the schools a “cultural genocide” and detailed how students were subjected to widespread physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
Beyak has not given any interviews since being kicked out of the Conservative caucus.
But in a statement Monday she defended her comments and the letters on her website as freedom of speech and a valid viewpoint that is glossed over in the name of political correctness. She also said Scheer didn’t tell the truth when he claimed he’d ”demanded” that she remove the letters, saying she hadn’t spoken to the leader or anyone from his office.
It turns out the directive to Beyak to remove the letters came from the office of Sen. Larry Smith, who is the leader of the Conservatives in the Senate.
Beyak also called Scheer an “inexperienced” leader who barely won his leadership race and who fell prey to political correctness whipped up by a Liberal government trying to take attention off its own political problems.
There is now a national campaign calling for Beyak to resign. The leaders of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Grand Council Treaty 3 launched the campaign, including a website and petition seeking support to get Beyak out of office. They say Beyak’s behaviour defending residential schools is conduct unbecoming of a senator.
Beyak’s “repeated defence of the residential schools is insulting, and makes a mockery of Canada’s efforts towards reconciliation,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation grand chief Alvin Fiddler.
Sen. Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s six year examination of Canada’s residential school legacy, would not comment Tuesday on Beyak due to his role on the upper chamber’s ethics committee. He would only say it is up to the Senate to act, should it decide additional steps are required.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott wrote Monday to Scheer and Sen. Smith asking for their help in getting the letters removed from the website.