Sen. Lynn Beyak apologizes for racist letters, says she’ll obey ethics report

OTTAWA — Sen. Lynn Beyak sought to stave off suspension from the upper chamber Tuesday, pledging to do more to make amends for the harm she caused by posting offensive letters online.

“I would like to unreservedly apologize for my actions,” she told the Senate.

“After deep and careful reflection, I have come to the view that the posting of offensive and hurtful letters to a Senate public website was wrong and ill-considered and my insistence on leaving them up was also wrong.”

The letters were sent to Beyak, a senator from Ontario, in support of her defence of the residential school system. While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded the system caused horrific abuse and alienation for generations of First Nations, Metis and Inuit children, Beyak has suggested there were benefits to the program that have been overshadowed.

The letters she received and published online echoed her views but some also went further, including suggestions that Indigenous Peoples and their culture were inferior.

As controversy began to ramp up, Beyak defended the decision to make and keep the letters public. She said they weren’t racist and removing them would be an affront to free speech.

She said Tuesday she now understands she was in the wrong.

“They were disrespectful, divisive and unacceptable,” she said of the letters.

“While my intent was never to hurt anyone, I see now that my actions did not have their desired effect, which was to promote open and constructive dialogue. Regretfully, my actions were unhelpful to the national conversation on this issue.”

Her refusal to take them down got her kicked out of the Conservative caucus and eventually, temporarily suspended from the Senate. Her suspension automatically ended when Parliament dissolved for the 2019 federal election.

As part of her suspension, she was to fully apologize and complete education programs on racism towards Indigenous Peoples.

Beyak had said in November she felt she fulfilled those requirements. But last month, the Senate ethics committee concluded she’d not gone far enough. The committee said the apology she offered at the time was insufficient and she did not fully finish the education program.

The senators on the committee recommended her suspension be reinstated. The Senate must vote on whether to support it.

On Tuesday, Beyak said she is ready to “engage swiftly and meaningfully in the process,” and complete the training.

She offered a broader apology to Indigenous Peoples, the Senate, and to Canadians, and said she has learned from the experience.

“We are never too old to learn and to grow,” she said.

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