Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak’s recent, well-publicized remarks on residential schools were disturbing, to say the least. When she told the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission failed to communicate all the good accomplished by the residential schools system, Beyak was a member in good standing. No longer. Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose and the party’s Senate Leader, Larry Smith, decided April 5 that her views were too toxic to represent Conservatives on this committee. It was about time.
During a committee meeting last month she shared her view 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. Obviously, the negative issues must be addressed, but it is unfortunate that they are sometimes magnified and considered more newsworthy than the abundance of good.”
Her remarks drew a lot of fire. Eeyou Istchee’s NDP MP Romeo Saganash, a residential school student himself, said Beyak’s remarks were like saying “there are some good sides to what Hitler did to the Jewish community.”
Saganash joined the Anglican Church of Canada in calling for Beyak to resign her seat. In an open letter to Beyak the Anglican Church wrote, “There was nothing good about children going missing and no report being filed. There was nothing good about burying children in unmarked graves far from their ancestral homes. It heaped cruelty upon cruelty for the child taken and the parent left behind.”
Even Senator Lillian Dyck, the chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, asked Beyak to step down from the committee. But Beyak refused. In a statement Dyck said, “While I respect the right of all senators to express their own opinions, I am concerned that Senator Beyak’s comments may have tarnished the good reputation of the [committee] and that her opinions may negatively impact the future work.” She added, “Aboriginal people must be able to feel that they can trust the members of the committee and that we respect them.”
The Assembly of First Nations offered to provide information about the residential school system, but Beyak replied she didn’t need a history lesson. As well as trying to put a good face on the residential school system, she called the infamous White Paper, which called for wholesale assimilation while removing all Aboriginal rights as separate nations in Canada, as brilliant and revolutionary.
While I am a firm believer in free speech, Beyak’s remarks served to underline the fundamental problem with her as a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. The committee looks at problems and concerns facing Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. If there was such blind faith in her own opinion and an unwillingness to look at facts and evidence, then there was a problem.
As such I welcomed the news – during the writing of this editorial – that Senator Beyak had at last been removed from the committee. “I have been very clear that I do not in any way support Senator Beyak’s comments about residential schools. There is no way to explain her comments,” Rona Ambrose said.
A month late, perhaps, but still a good move on the part of the Conservatives.