Mary Jane McCallum says she spoke to elders and decided to move ahead with a motion to expel Lynn Beyak from the Red Chamber for one purpose: to elevate the voices of residential school survivors who have been harmed by Ms. Beyak’s actions.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. McCallum, herself a survivor of the schools, said she did not act out of vengeance when she decided to bring forward the motion, which she expects the Senate to discuss in February. She said she was thinking of the former students who “have no voice.”
“That needs some form of justice,” said the Manitoba senator, who as a dentist provided dental care to First Nations in her province. “We could not just leave it sitting there.”
Ms. McCallum said she is speaking out now to give more context to her decision to bring forward the motion and to address persistent harms to Indigenous people. She said Ms. Beyak’s actions caused extensive damage, and the Senate as an institution must look within to address the institutional racism that has let the situation play out for so long.
She said she had talks with elders from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba to hear their thoughts on the motion, which was introduced earlier this month.
Ms. Beyak, an Ontario senator, had posted letters on her website about residential schools that were deemed to be racist by the Senate. Her office has not commented on the motion.
The former member of the Conservative caucus was suspended without pay in the spring of 2019, after she refused to remove the letters. That suspension ended when Parliament dissolved the following fall for the federal election.
At the end of February, the Senate voted to suspend Ms. Beyak again after it approved a report on her conduct from the standing committee on ethics and conflict of interest for senators. The report recommended she be suspended without pay for the duration of the parliamentary session, that she apologize and participate in educational programs.
In a report in June, the Senate ethics committee recommended rescinding the February suspension of Ms. Beyak.
“While it will be for all senators to judge its sufficiency, your committee is satisfied that, in her letter of apology, Senator Beyak adequately acknowledges and understands the impact of her conduct and offers thoughtful reflection on her educational experience and what she has learned as a result,” the committee wrote.
Ms. McCallum has said that the prorogation of Parliament in August prevented senators from discussing the issue further, and reinstated Ms. Beyak as a senator in good standing.
Ms. McCallum, who was appointed to the Senate in December, 2017, and attended residential school beginning at age five, said that Ms. Beyak’s actions have taken racism to a new level.
She also questions why mistruths and stereotypes about Indigenous people were allowed to be expressed in the Senate, such as when Ms. Beyak defended her actions in May, 2019, particularly while Indigenous senators were present.
“Would that be allowed to happen anywhere?” she said. “Would someone at a university or anywhere else, any other institution, would they be allowed to carry on?”
Ms. McCallum said she is not sure how much support her motion to expel Ms. Beyak will have. But she wants the discussion to explore the role of institutional racism in the Senate, white privilege and its effects.
Discussions in the Senate in response to the situation have never been serious enough, she added.
“Things will go as they should and I am just glad that we are going to have the opportunity to discuss this on the Senate floor,” Ms. McCallum said. “As senators, we really need to look at all the issues … that allowed this to happen.”
Ms. McCallum also said she was shocked by recent comments from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole on residential schools, particularly because of the increased discussion in recent months about systemic racism in such areas as policing and health care institutions.
On Dec. 16, Mr. O’Toole issued a statement after he faced criticism from Indigenous leaders for telling Ryerson University students the residential school system was an attempt to provide education.
“It was not,” his statement said. “The system was intended to remove children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures.”
Mr. O’Toole’s remarks were made to a Conservative club at Ryerson University and were posted on Facebook in November. They garnered attention after the website PressProgress posted them on Dec. 15.
His follow-up statement came after Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde expressed dismay over the remarks. Mr. Bellegarde said it was disappointing to see Mr. O’Toole use the residential school tragedy, which devastated generations of First Nations families, to score meaningless political points.
Mr. O’Toole’s remarks caused damage, Ms. McCallum said, adding that racism was entrenched in young minds.
“What can he do now to take back and meaningfully address what he did? He is doing the same thing as Beyak.”
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