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Senators seek investigation to determine if Lynn Beyak postings were racist

A picture of Senator Lynn Beyak accompanies other Senators official portraits on a display outside the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. The saga of Senator Lynn Beyak's letters continues, with some of her Senate colleagues now seeking to determine if she has violated Senate ethics and spending rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Independent senators have asked the Senate Ethics Officer and a Senate committee to determine if Senator Lynn Beyak broke any rules or behaved improperly when she posted allegedly racist comments about Indigenous people on her parliamentary website.

Five members of the Independent Senators Group (ISG) – Raymonde Gagné, Frances Lankin, Ratna Omidvar, Chantal Petitclerc and André Pratte – wrote Monday to Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault to ask if Ms. Beyak's postings constitute a violation of the Senate Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code. Specifically, the senators asked if Ms. Beyak's actions "reflect adversely on the position of senator or the institution of the Senate."

In addition, the senators asked the Senate's committee on internal economy, budgets and administration to discuss, at its next meeting, whether the posting of such materials on a website hosted by the Senate constitutes a misuse of Senate resources.

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Senator Yuen Pau Woo, the facilitator of the ISG, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the letter "broadly reflects the sentiments of a large number of senators who essentially want to see if any rules have been broken and what can be done."

As senators take a hard look at Ms. Beyak's actions, First Nations leaders in her home region of Northwestern Ontario are asking Canadians to sign a petition calling for her resignation.

"It shouldn't just be Indigenous people standing up and demanding action, it should be everybody," said Alvin Fiddler, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation which is organizing the campaign with the Grand Council of Treaty Three. "The Senate is a Canadian institution, it's a national institution," said Mr. Fiddler, "and we're saying, because of what she has said and done, that she doesn't belong there anymore."

Ms. Beyak now sits as a non-affiliated senator after being removed from the Conservative caucus last week by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Conservative Senate Leader Larry Smith over the letters she posted in defence of her support last year for Indian residential schools.

In addition to widespread physical and sexual abuse, a report released in late 2015 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said as many as 6,000 children died in the crowded schools. But Ms. Beyak rose in the Senate in March to praise what she called the "abundance of good" that took place in the institutions.

In the face of widespread criticism for those comments, she posted more than 100 letters of support for her position which included a suggestion that First Nations people "will sit and wait until the government gives them stuff."

Ms. Beyak, who did not respond to requests for comment to this story, released a statement on Monday in which she portrayed herself as a defender of free speech and characterized Mr. Scheer as an inexperienced leader who, in his decision to eject her from the Conservative caucus, has bowed to political correctness.

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Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said last week that the Senate ethics committee, which can recommend the expulsion of senators, should take a look at Ms. Beyak's actions. The letter from the senators this week could be the first step in that process.

Mr. Woo explained that Mr. Legault must first present his opinion about whether the code of ethics has been violated and he may then write a report that would go to the ethics committee for consideration.

Former senator Don Meredith resigned his seat in the Red Chamber last May after the committee voted to expel him over his sexual affair with a teenage girl.

In their letter to the Senate Ethics Officer, the five senators said Ms. Beyak has the right to praise residential schools even though that position may be offensive to some people. On the other hand, they said, they wanted to know if the postings on her website could be considered the promotion of racism.

Mr. Woo said the members of the ISG, as members of the largest group in the Senate, have a special responsibility for the reputation of the Senate and "when things go awry, such as in this current incident, as a group, we provide some leadership in addressing the issue and making sure that the reputation of the Senate and its standing among Canadians is upheld."

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