Senate committee recommends Beyak suspension over letters on Indigenous Peoples

OTTAWA — The Senate’s ethics committee recommended Tuesday that Sen. Lynn Beyak be suspended without pay over incendiary letters about Indigenous Peoples she posted to her website.

The committee is also recommending Beyak attend educational programs at her own expense related to racism toward Indigenous people, have the Senate’s administration remove the five letters from her website if she won’t remove them herself, and make Beyak apologize in writing.

The recommendations follow a March report from the Senate’s ethics officer, Pierre Legault, who found the Ontario senator breached two sections of a code of conduct for senators by posting racist letters.

The letters are part of an effort Beyak has made to promote the positive side of residential schools.

The government-sponsored religious schools, which operated from the 19th century until 1996, were meant to assimilate Indigenous children into European-Canadian culture. In so doing, they deprived children of connections to their homes and families. Many were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse, and several thousand died.

Legault found that while a senator is entitled to encourage historical debate, the letters of support she posted “are rife with stereotypical negative beliefs, assumptions and prejudices directed at (Indigenous people).” He said Beyak should take the letters down and apologize.

The ethics committee wrote that suspending Beyak without pay would help her ”gain further perspective on the privilege of serving in Canada’s upper house.” Cutting off access to her Senate resources, including her office and expense account, would “foster a greater appreciation of those resources and the attendant expectations for their appropriate use,” the report said.

“It’s a reasonable report, it’s a reasonable set of recommendations and most senators are reasonable,” said Sen. Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that documented the legacy of the residential school system. “For the good of the Senate and reputation of this institution, I think we need to look carefully at what the committee recommended and go forward with that.”

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