Joint letter from Indian Residential School survivors, leaders, anti-racism advocates calls for removal of Lynn Beyak from the Senate
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
A coalition of Indian Residential School survivors, their families, Grand Chiefs, and anti-racism advocates issued a joint letter on June 30, calling for the removal of Senator Lynn Beyak from the Senate.
The call for removal came after the Senate Ethics Committee received an assessment report from Jonathan Black-Branch, the dean of law at the University of Manitoba, stating Beyak “learned and was willing to learn” after three-and-a-half days of virtual training this spring.
The coalition said the Standing Committee on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Senators ordered Beyak to undergo further training earlier this year after she received a failing grade in a cultural competency course delivered by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) in 2019.
“In this most recent attempt to enlighten the embattled Senator, the Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault engaged the services of an educational team headed by Dr. Jonathan Black-Branch, Dean of Law at the University of Manitoba. Black-Branch concluded in his May report to Legault that after three and a half days of virtual training this spring, Ms. Beyak “learned and was willing to learn”. First Nations and residential school survivors in Beyak’s home region, where there were nine residential schools, had no involvement or input into the course. Grand Chiefs Francis Kavanaugh of Treaty #3 and Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, have both spoken out in recent months against Beyak’s continued role as a senator,” a June 30 joint press release from the coalition informed.
“The Senate Ethics Committee issued their first report on Beyak In March 2019 ordering her to take down racist letters from her website, apologize, and take training. She refused and was suspended from Senate. She finally relented and attended the OFIFC training. Workshop leaders asked her to leave after the first day citing her “overtly biased views, prejudiced opinions, and insolent behaviors”. Beyak was suspended again in February 2020 following the dismal report by the OFIFC.
“The Senate is scheduled to vote in September on whether Beyak’s suspension will be lifted. The Senate Ethics Committee has recommended she be given another chance based on the report from the University of Manitoba team,” the press release continued.
“We the undersigned urgently call on you and your team at the University of Manitoba to rescind your May 31, 2020 Assessment Report on the Educational Program for Senator Lynn Beyak,” the joint letter from June 30 states.
Kavanaugh and Fiddler are among the signatories of the joint letter, which also includes Manitoba Region Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Kevin Hart, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc Grand Chief Garrison Settee, and Anishinaabe lawyer and intergenerational survivor Danielle H. Morrison.
“While you determined after three and a half days of virtual tutorials and discussions with her that “Overall it would seem that Senator Beyak has learned …”, our experience over the past three years has shown she is determined to persist in her racist views and behaviour. The Senator was generously invited to numerous Indigenous-led conversations, ceremonial meetings, and training sessions, which seemed to have little or no impact on her, and during which she caused further offense to participants and facilitators,” the signatories state in their letter.
“No correspondence has ever been received by our nations from Senator Beyak acknowledging or apologizing for her racism. She represents neither our region’s interests nor our ‘minority interests’, two of the key roles of Senators. We do not accept her apology made February 25, 2020 in the Upper House of the Senate.
“When it comes to Senator Lynn Beyak’s history of racist behaviour, the call from our leadership and communities has been clear: Senator Beyak must resign,” the letter continues.
Earlier this year seven councillors from across the region, including Sioux Lookout, called for the Senate of Canada to vacate the seat of Senator Beyak in a statement issued on Feb. 19.
Sioux Lookout Councillor Joe Cassidy was one of the seven regional councillors.
“I was approached by the group to join. The one thing that I think needs to come out of this is that you are appointed to the Senate and you have a job to do. Part of that job, with the first report that came out, was you need to take the training, issue an apology, acknowledge the wrong and make it right and move forward in a positive manner. The apology that was issued, it barely comprehends an apology and the fact that you couldn’t complete the training, I find it unacceptable,” Cassidy told The Sioux Lookout Bulletin earlier this year.
“The Senate committee recommends that the Senator be suspended again, but enough is enough. If this Senator will not resign, we call on the Senate to do everything in its power to vacate her seat so that the privilege of serving in the Red Chamber may be extended to an individual who is capable of standing with the people of our region, advancing their priorities, and honourably representing Northwestern Ontario in Parliament,” the councillors shared in their statement.
Through a resolution passed by its Board of Directors on May 28, the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB) requested Beyak to step down from her role as Senator.
“The resolution was brought forward in response to the challenging public discussions taking place as a result of the words and actions of a Canadian Senator,” the KDSB shared in a news release.
“We acknowledge that this is a unique situation and unprecedented for the District Services Board to provide such a resolution. We believe it is important for our community leaders, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Grand Council Treaty #3 (GCT#3) Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh to know that we stand with them in their fight against racism and bigotry,” stated Barry Baltessen, Board Chair of the KDSB.