MP who survived residential school calls for senator's resignation
Published Thursday, March 9, 2017 3:39PM EST
OTTAWA -- New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash wants a Conservative senator to resign after she lamented that negative stories about residential schools overshadow the good things they accomplished, including raising the students as Christians.
Ontario Senator Lynn Beyak, who sits on the upper chamber's aboriginal peoples committee, made the remarks in a speech about a study on the disproportionately high number of indigenous women in Canadian prisons.
Beyak didn't address the topic, but spoke instead about residential schools and a proposal to change the name of the Langevin Block, which houses the Prime Minister's Office, because Hector-Louis Langevin was the architect of the policy.
"Mistakes were made at residential schools -- in many instances, horrible mistakes that overshadowed some good things that also happened at those schools," Beyak said during a debate Tuesday evening.
"To change the name of the Langevin Block here in Ottawa -- as well as other legacy infrastructure in Calgary and across the country -- is a good example of fiction getting in the way of fact. It concerns me that this call for a name change is based on factual misinformation," she said.
Beyak went on to argue, citing a Toronto writer, that residential schools were already in place when Langevin was a civil servant, and he and others in the same time period should be judged according to the values of their time.
"Our forefathers who were involved with residential schools -- some may even be related to you -- were well-intentioned for the most part, and those who were not should be forgiven. As with everything in life, forgiveness will go a long way in the process of reconciliation," Beyak said.
Goal was to 'take me away from my family'
Beyak, through her office, declined an interview request.
"Senator Beyak has nothing further to add to her remarks in the Senate Tuesday, wherein she commented on both the negatives and positives of the residential school system," her spokeswoman wrote in an email to CTV News.
Saganash, a survivor of the residential school system, asked Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett whether she'd agree to call for Beyak's resignation.
"I was also shocked when I heard what Senator Beyak said," Saganash said in question period in the House of Commons. The goal of the system, he said, was to "take me away from my family, my culture, my language and my land," calling it "a form of cultural genocide."
"There's never a good side to genocide," Saganash said.
Bennett declined to answer, saying it's up to the Indigenous community to decide whether they want an apology or Beyak's resignation.
New Democrat MP Georgina Jolibois said Beyak's views are sickening.
"Children were forcibly taken from their families and homes for the exact purpose of trying to wipe out their languages and their identities. Will this government stand with us to condemn and denounce the statements made by Senator Beyak" Jolibois said.
Bennett agreed, calling Beyak's comments "ill-informed, offensive and simply wrong."
"The senator's comments underscore the need for better education so that all Canadians can work together to advance the shared journey of reconciliation," she said.
"Survivors' families and communities are still dealing with the intergenerational trauma resulting from Indian residential schools. We must all be united in supporting them."
It's not the first time Beyak has made controversial remarks. On Feb. 28, she questioned the need to add protection for transgender people in the Canadian Human Rights Act and advised people in the LGBTQ community not to draw attention to themselves, citing friends of hers.
"By living in quiet dignity, they have never had to face any kind of discrimination or uncomfortable feelings. I would assert that is how the vast majority of the LGBT community feels," Beyak said.
"Sadly, we only focus on the vocal minority. Our school curriculum is now so crowded there is little time to teach our children the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic... Yet we teach them how to put condoms on cucumbers or question whether they want to be a boy or girl before they are even old enough to understand what the difference really is. Isn't it time we get our priorities straight?"