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Principled defenders of free speech sometimes end up with unfortunate bedfellows.

You will recognize the type. They say something abhorrent, suffer some (non-legal) consequences, then cry, "Free speech in Canada is dead."

In fact, that phrase is the subject heading of one of the dozens of e-mails and letters that Senator Lynn Beyak posted on her Senate website to show the breadth of public support for her position that residential schools were not all bad.

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Her unremitting espousal of the "not all bad" thesis got Ms. Beyak removed from the Senate's Aboriginal peoples committee last April. The controversy brought her a lot of scorn, but also a few kudos. One correspondent titled his encouraging missive "Brave and intelligent lady."

We're not sure what it says about Ms. Beyak's judgment or sense of perspective that she published this and other plaudits on a government webpage. But unseemly self-congratulation isn't the charge now being levelled at her.

No, the charge is using her unelected position to promote the views of racists. It's what prompted Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to remove her from caucus last week.

Some of the senator's fans went beyond, "We got your back, Lynn." While many missives were sober and earnest, if misguided about the horrors of residential school policy, several had the foul air of the worst internet trolls.

The comment that prompted Ms. Beyak's ouster read as follows: "I'm no anthropologist" – and the writer should have quit here – "but it seems every opportunistic culture, subsistence hunter/gatherers seeks to get what they can for no effort. There is always a clash between industrial/organized farming culture that values effort as opposed to a culture that will sit and wait until the government gives them stuff."

As Mr. Scheer rightly said, this is racist. It is not making a contentious point about the history of residential schools; it is saying an ethnic group is indisposed to work.

Absurdly, Ms. Beyak cried "free speech" in a statement of her own. "I believe our website has given Canadians a voice," she said – as though drivel like this weren't posted daily on social media.

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This is not a free-speech issue. And it's a shame that Ms. Beyak is tarnishing that cause. As the Lindsay Shepherd fiasco at Wilfrid Laurier University demonstrated, the Canadian left has a tendency to stifle legitimate speech and cruelly go after perceived heretics.

Ms. Beyak is not a victim of that tendency. She unrepentantly aired the most clear-cut and pernicious bigotry. For that – since she is a senator, unelected and unaccountable – her fate will be to sit as an unaffiliated member until she is 75 and then collect a fat pension. Some martyr.

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