OTTAWA — Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak says her party's decision to sanction her for comments about Canada's residential school history amounts to a threat to freedom of speech.
In a statement released Thursday, Beyak — who was removed Wednesday from the Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples — says political correctness is "stifling opinion and thoughtful conversation."
She also says a silent majority of Canadians agree with what she said — that there were "good deeds" and other positive elements that emerged from the country's residential school system.
Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak says her party's decision to sanction her for comments about Canada's residential school history amounts to a threat to freedom of speech. (Photo: Senate of Canada)
"For me to lose my position on the Aboriginal Peoples Committee for complimenting the work of nurses, teachers, foster families and legions of other decent, caring Canadians — along with highlighting inspiring stories spoken by aboriginal people themselves — is a serious threat to freedom of speech," Beyak writes.
"Too often, on a broad range of issues, a vocal minority cries foul and offence whenever a point of view is raised that does not align with their own.
"Meanwhile, the silent majority, who are contributing to this country by working, building and selling things, taking care of their parents and children, are left thinking they are alone."
Beyak made the comments early last month in a speech focused on highlighting the need to track federal spending on indigenous issues.
"I speak partly for the record, but mostly in memory of the kindly and well-intentioned men and women and their descendants — perhaps some of us here in this chamber — whose remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part and are overshadowed by negative reports," she said at the time.
Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent six years examining the legacy of the government-funded, church-operated schools, infamous hotbeds of abuse and mistreatment that operated from the 1870s to 1996.
The comments touched off a firestorm inside and outside the upper chamber that divided her own caucus, which ultimately decided to remove her from the Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
'Truthful' discussions tough to have: Beyak
In her statement, Beyak says she believes the experience has revealed to her how difficult it is to have a "balanced, truthful discussion about all issues affecting Canadians."
Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier says he's happy to count Beyak among his supporters, despite the comments.
Late Wednesday, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose removed Beyak from the committee, but stopped short of kicking her out of caucus.
A spokesman said Ambrose has been clear Beyak's views don't reflect the Conservative party's position — a sentiment Bernier echoed earlier this week in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Bernier happy with senator's support
Bernier called the schools a dark part of Canada's history, and said he stands by the decision to remove Beyak from the committee. But the former Conservative cabinet minister is defending her right to express her opinion.
"I think political correctness has gone a bit overboard," Bernier said in a statement of his own. "As parliamentarians, we are allowed to have different views and to debate them. And I'm happy to have the senator's endorsement."
Earlier this week, Sen. Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, who sits on the aboriginal committee, said she was "shocked and dismayed" by her Senate colleague's remarks.
She said she would boycott the committee's meetings as long as Beyak remained a member.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde has also called for Beyak to be removed from the committee.
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