The Senate voted Thursday to suspend Senator Lynn Beyak from the Red Chamber over her refusal to remove racist letters about Indigenous people from her website.
Senators voted on division – meaning, without unanimous consent – to adopt the recommendations of a Senate ethics committee report calling for Ms. Beyak to be suspended without pay for the remainder of the current parliamentary session. Ms. Beyak has rebuffed repeated demands to remove five letters posted to her Senate website that have been widely described as racist toward Indigenous people.
The ethics committee report, released last month, also recommended that Ms. Beyak apologize to the Senate and attend − at her own expense − “educational programs related to racism toward Indigenous peoples in Canada.” In the case that Ms. Beyak refuses to remove the letters, the committee called on the Senate administration to do so.
The vote came after Ms. Beyak asked her fellow senators to reject the ethics committee’s recommendations, calling the penalties “totalitarian.” She stood by the letters, saying her website has become a “positive public forum" since posting them.
Ms. Beyak said the Senate should only scrutinize the speech of a senator if it’s “contrary to law,” warning that the decision to suspend her could set a risky precedent for others.
“If the Senate does not respect this legal bright line, then every activist senator will become fair game for political opponents, including interactions in the office, in the home, in the bedroom and at church.”
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said the Senate did the “right thing” by suspending Ms. Beyak and committing to take the letters down.
“It is truly sad that Senator Beyak still does not understand the gravity of her actions nor her role as a parliamentarian to lead by example. It’s not about political correctness − this is about racism that hurts people,” Ms. Bennett said in a statement Thursday.
The ethics committee’s recommendations came after a year-long probe by Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault, which found that Ms. Beyak breached two sections of the conflict-of-interest code by posting the letters on her website. The report said the letters imply that Indigenous people are lazy, opportunistic, inept, incompetent and greedy individuals who milk the government.
“Posting racist letters is incompatible with upholding the highest standards of dignity inherent in the position of senator. Senators are expected to protect Canada’s values and to represent the underrepresented, not to publish material on their Senate websites that denigrate them,” read the report.
Ms. Beyak posted the letters to her website to demonstrate that she had support for a speech about residential schools that she gave to the Red Chamber in March of 2017. In that speech, she said residential schools did “some good" for Indigenous children. However, many suffered widespread physical and sexual abuse and thousands died from disease and malnutrition.
Ms. Beyak was appointed to the Senate by then-prime minister Stephen Harper in 2013. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer kicked her out of the Tory caucus in January, 2018 after she refused to remove the letters from her website.