The Conservative senator who praised the “abundance of good” to come out of residential schools has become an isolated figure in the Red Chamber as her colleagues distance themselves from her statements or challenge them directly.
Senators are actively discussing ways to remove Senator Lynn Beyak from the Senate aboriginal peoples committee. And the new Leader of her own Conservative caucus in the Senate says he recognizes that her words are an issue he will have to deal with.
Ms. Beyak refused to speak to reporters on Tuesday when she took her seat on the committee, saying only that she stands behind her previous remarks. But her fellow senators took public issue with what she had said.
Senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which spent years looking into the abuses of residential schools, questioned the validity of Ms. Beyak’s assertion that Indigenous people should give up their aboriginal treaty rights and assimilate into Canadian society in return for a lump-sum payment.
And Senator Kim Pate, a former prisoners’ rights advocate, said of Ms. Beyak, “If we are going to have nation-to-nation discussions, we need to authentically understand the problems and the question remains as to whether everybody fully understands the problems …”
The Conservatives in the Senate elected Larry Smith, a former Canadian Football League commissioner, to be the chair of their caucus at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning. Mr. Smith, who talked to reporters after the vote, did not say Ms. Beyak would face repercussions, but neither did he defend her.
“I recognize that it is an important issue,” replied Mr. Smith. “It’s a dark part of our history in terms of what happened to the Indigenous people, the children. But let’s sit down and do our homework and discuss this properly so we come out with a balanced approach.”
After telling fellow senators earlier this month about the “kindly and well-intentioned men and women ... whose remarkable work, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unnoticed,” Ms. Beyak said her remarks were meant only to point out that misguided federal spending has failed to improve the social condition of many Indigenous people.
Then, in an interview with the CBC this week, she said she stood by her statements and that she, herself, had “suffered with them up there. I appreciate their suffering more than they’ll ever know.”
Ms. Beyak also said she does not need more education about residential schools because she has “been involved since we double dated when I was 15 with an aboriginal fellow and his wife.”
Marilou McPhedran, an independent senator who sits on the aboriginal peoples committee, said “the committee members are actively discussing the impact of having this point of view, which is really anchored in a past of great shame, promoted by any member of the committee.”
Senators are “deeply affected” when any member of the Senate appears to belittle the reality and the suffering of aboriginal peoples, said Ms. McPhedran. The committee, she said, is supposed to “honour and respect and build pathways of reconciliation and, right now, it doesn’t look like or feel like we’re making progress in that area.”
Senator Don Plett, a fellow Conservative who chairs the committee that appoints senators to committees, said Ms. Beyak has merely exercised her right to free speech and “as the chair of the selection committee, I have had no requests to intervene and I have no intentions of intervening.”
But Mr. Plett also said he did not concur with Ms. Beyak’s statement in the Senate about residential schools.
Other Conservative senators said they, too, disagreed with Ms. Beyak.
And veteran Liberal Senator Charlie Watt, who is Inuit, said Ms. Beyak should have been more careful with her words.
“I think what was not appreciated by the people who have lived through the residential school era,” said Mr. Watt, “was hearing somebody in the Senate making a comment without having a very clear understanding of it.”Report Typo/Error