Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller left little doubt Wednesday that he has little regard for former senator Lynn Beyak, who abruptly retired this week and used her parting words to defend the “good” of Canada’s shameful residential school system.
“I want to say how I feel. There’s a number of cameras in front of me so I’ll stay polite,” Miller told a CTV journalist when asked to comment on Beyak at an Ottawa press conference on COVID-19 and Indigenous communities.
Miller said he is someone who believes in forgiveness, even when it is not politically expedient, but said he could offer none to Beyak.
“She’s shown zero remorse. I don’t forgive her,” Miller said. “What she said was wrong and continues to be wrong.”
Watch a clip of Miller’s comments from APTN News:
Beyak resigned her Senate seat Monday, citing a commitment she made to former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2013 that she would serve no longer than eight years. The Ontario senator had already been suspended from the upper chamber twice, and was facing an expulsion push from a fellow senator.
In a statement, Beyak was unrepentant about her views about residential schools, which were launched by Christian churches and the federal government in the 1880s and ran for more than a century. They were in operation to assimilate Indigenous children into the dominant Euro-Canadian society.
Indigenous children were separated from their families and suffered physical and sexual abuse in the boarding schools, with up to 6,000 students estimated to have died under the system. The final report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) concluded the school system amounted to “cultural genocide.”
“Some have criticized me for stating that the good, as well as the bad, of residential schools should be recognized. I stand by that statement,″ Beyak wrote. “Others have criticized me for stating that the Truth and Reconciliation Report was not as balanced as it should be. I stand by that statement as well.″
She called it a “privilege” to have faced so-called attacks “on behalf of Canadians who value freedom of expression.”
Not acknowledging residential schools trauma ‘the product of a twisted and closed mind’: Miller
Miller said it is fallacious to say residential schools were intended for “anything other than to assimilate” and to rip Indigenous children away from “vibrant cultures,” resulting in trauma that has been passed on for generations.
“Not to acknowledge that exists and there are carry-on effects is the product of a twisted and closed mind,” he said. “I wish no ill on people. I just… it’s still sickening.”
Since Beyak served more than six years and was not expelled, she is eligible to receive a full pension under the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act. She left roughly three years before hitting the mandatory retirement age of 75.
Asked if she should receive a pension in light of her suspensions, Miller held his tongue. “Let the Senate deal with her pension,” he said. “Seriously.”
After landing in hot water with her 2017 speech defending residential schools, Beyak — at the time a Conservative senator — posted more than 100 “letters of support” on her Senate website, some of which included racist language about Indigenous peoples.
Then-Tory leader Andrew Scheer later removed Beyak from the Tory caucus after she repeatedly refused his request to take down a derogatory letter that claimed Indigenous people want to receive things for “no effort.”
Beyak was first suspended without pay in May 2019, and asked to attend Indigenous cultural training sessions, which she did not successfully complete. That suspension expired when a federal election was called, dissolving Parliament later that year.
In February 2020, months after the election and the start of a new session of Parliament, Beyak made an unsuccessful, last-ditch attempt at an apology to stave off another suspension.
Beyak told senators at the time that, upon “deep and careful reflection,” she understood “the posting of offensive and hurtful letters to a Senate public website was wrong and ill-considered” and apologized “for any hurt” her actions caused.
Sen. Sinclair: Beyak’s resignation a ‘positive event’
Sen. Murray Sinclair, who served as chief commissioner of the TRC, said in a statement Beyak’s resignation is a “positive event” for the Senate and for Canadians who “deserve responsible and honourable conduct from public office holders.”
Sinclair said that while he believes in giving people chances to learn and change, Beyak’s resignation statement shows she continues to “selectively refer to words of a few survivors who may not themselves have been physically harmed,” but who may never fathom how they themselves have been affected by the schools.
Beyak’s words contradict her apology on the Senate floor and other “expressions of understanding” about the issue, he said.
“Clearly, as many had suspected, she was hiding her true thoughts and feelings all along,” Sinclair said. “This suggests to me that she is not only continuing to be unwilling to learn, but that she will continue to espouse her racist views going forward.
“Her attitude is harmful and dangerous, and I am glad that she will no longer be able to express those views in Parliament.”
With files from Zi-Ann Lum