OTTAWA — The Senate’s ethics committee is recommending that Sen. Lynn Beyak’s suspension from the upper house be lifted now that she has taken anti-racism training and apologized for posting derogatory letters about Indigenous Peoples on her website.
In a report to the Senate, the committee says Beyak has acknowledged the wrongs of her past conduct and committed herself to improvement after taking a four-day program to educate herself about Indigenous history and the role of the Senate in promoting minority rights.
As a result, the committee says Beyak has met the conditions the Senate laid down for returning to the upper house in good standing.
Beyak was kicked out of the Conservative caucus and eventually suspended without pay in May 2019 after refusing to remove the offensive letters from her website.
That suspension ended automatically when Parliament dissolved for last fall’s federal election.
But the Senate voted in February to suspend her again because, while she had finally apologized, she still hadn’t completed an anti-racism course.
Beyak took the course in May. It was led by Jonathan Black-Branch, the dean of law at the University of Manitoba, and involved seven instructors, some of whom were Indigenous.
The committee report notes that “one educational course alone may not yield attitudinal changes on Indigenous matters or informed behavioural changes.”
But based on Black-Branch’s evaluation of Beyak’s conduct during the course, the committee concluded that “she was engaged in the required process, was willing to learn and did indeed learn.”
In a letter of apology tabled earlier this month in the Senate, Beyak apologized again and said the anti-racism program “made more clear and distinct to me the adverse impact caused by posting the letters.”
The offending letters were posted in response to a 2017 speech in which Beyak argued that residential schools did a lot of good for Indigenous children, although many suffered physical and sexual abuse and thousands died of disease and malnutrition.
The Senate’s ethics officer, Pierre Legault, concluded in March 2019 that five of the letters in particular contained racist content, suggesting that Indigenous people are lazy, chronic whiners who are milking the residential-schools issue to get government handouts.
Beyak refused for almost a year to delete the letters, casting herself as a champion of free speech and a victim of political correctness. They were eventually deleted from her website by the Senate administration.
The ethics committee deemed her initial apology to be perfunctory and her first stab at cultural sensitivity training a fiasco. That training was provided by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, which cut it short after concluding Beyak had no interest in confronting her opinions about Indigenous Peoples
In her most recent letter of apology, Beyak said she now understands how hurtful her conduct was and expressed her gratitude to the education program organized by Black-Branch.
“I learned a blunt lesson in understanding and compassion, that just because people rise above the harm they have suffered, it does not soften the raw edges of hurt and distrust,” she said.
“I have learned new ways of advocating that are tactful, compassionate and respectful and, once again, apologize sincerely and unreservedly for my hurtful actions and wrongful conduct.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2020.
Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version erroneously said Beyak’s speech where she argued residential schools did a lot of good for Indigenous children was in 2018.