A senator who was suspended after posting racist letters from constituents on her official Senate website and refusing to take them down has apologized.
“After deep and careful reflection, I have come to the view that the posting of offensive and hurtful letters to a Senate public website was wrong and ill-considered,” Sen. Lynn Beyak told the Senate Tuesday.
“They were disrespectful, divisive and unacceptable.”
She extended an apology to Indigenous Peoples, fellow senators and all Canadians “for any hurt” caused by her actions.
After sparking outrage for a speech in which Beyak said good things came from Canada’s residential school system, she posted letters of support she received online. The senator served a suspension without pay in 2019 after refusing to delete them.
Many of the letters contained offensive remarks and stereotypes. One said Indigenous organizations are only looking for “a cash grab,” while another said Indigenous people should be grateful for residential schools. Others suggested that Indigenous people are lazy and snobbish.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer asked her to take down one of the letters, — which suggested Indigenous people want to get things for “no effort” — and then kicked her out of caucus when she refused.
The controversy was compounded when the Senate published a report on Beyak’s apparent unwillingness to participate in the cultural competency training she was ordered to complete.
““The Senator was not invested in the conversations, indifferent to the content of the training, and observably disengaged ...”
In a letter to the Senate Ethics Officer, the training co-ordinator at the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres — where Beyak had attended training — said she had concerns about her behaviour.
“The Senator was not invested in the conversations, indifferent to the content of the training, and observably disengaged from discussions on how to work toward reconciliation and building healthy urban Indigenous communities,” Nicole Meawasige wrote.
She also said that Beyak claimed to be Métis because her parents adopted an Indigenous child, a claim the senator denies.
Beyak said in her apology Tuesday that she plans to complete the training “with an open mind.”
“We are never too old to learn and to grow,” she said.
Councillor calls for Beyak to resign
Meanwhile, the city council in Beyak’s Ontario hometown is set to vote on a motion calling on her to resign.
“The City condemns the conduct of Senator Beyak ... and disavows any racist statements or publications made or promoted by the Senator, particularly as they have come to be attributed to the City,” reads a motion introduced Monday by Dryden Coun. Shayne MacKinnon.
“The City calls for the Senator to immediately resign her position and offer a comprehensive apology to Canadians – and in particular Indigenous Canadians.”
MacKinnon told HuffPost Canada that he hopes to see the results of Beyak’s training before council debates his motion on March 23.
“I am very hopeful that the Senator is sincere about her apology,” he said.
“There continues to be racism evident in communities in Canada and northwestern Ontario and it’s really the responsibility of all public officials to use their office to eradicate it, not to deny its existence.”
“Any Senator, any elected official, can do a lot of good for communities in the country by looking at issues that unite us rather than divide us.”
With a file from the Canadian Press