Facing push to expel, Lynn Beyak retires from the Senate
OTTAWA -- Facing a call for her colleagues to expel her from the Senate, Sen. Lynn Beyak has announced she is retiring, effective Monday. Her departure comes three years before her mandatory retirement.
In a statement, Beyak said her decision to leave the Senate is aligned with former prime minister Stephen Harper’s intent to have senators he appointed hold their positions in the upper chamber for eight years.
“A promise made, a promise kept. I intend to honour my commitment and therefore announce today that effective January 25, 2021 – the end of my 8th year - I will be retiring from the Senate of Canada,” Beyak said in a statement.
Dozens of senators brought in while Harper was prime minister have remained in the Senate past the eight-year mark.
Beyak had come under considerable scrutiny in recent years over her comments about Indigenous people. Amid the controversy she was removed from the Conservative caucus, and had been sitting as a non-affiliated senator representing Ontario.
Beyak was suspended without pay from the Senate during the last Parliament after refusing to remove racist letters about residential schools from her website. The letters were ultimately removed by the Senate administration, she took anti-racism training and apologized for posting what she said were “offensive and hurtful letters.” That suspension expired when the last Parliament dissolved and her colleagues agreed to sanction her once again, but the subsequent suspension expired when Parliament was prorogued in August.
Then, in December, Sen. Mary Jane McCallum advanced a motion seeking a Senate first: having Beyak permanently removed. The motion was tabled but had not yet been debated before the Senate adjourned for the holidays. The next scheduled sitting of the Senate is Feb. 2. McCallum’s office said it was her intention to speak to the motion early next week.
“A modern Senate is no place for racism to exist,” said McCallum at the time, herself a residential school survivor. “Beyak’s actions have sown division in our society. By allowing her to remain in a position with the inherent title of ‘Honourable’ while such misdeeds have been appropriated is irresponsible and sets a poor example that is contrary to how Parliamentarians expect themselves and each other to act.”
In Monday’s statement about her retirement, Beyak addressed the criticism, saying she thinks people should acknowledge "the good, as well as the bad" aspects of the residential school system. Beyak said she stands by her comments, but that they were “never meant to offend anyone.”
There has been well-documented abuse and suffering Indigenous children experienced inside these institutions.
In 2008, Harper issued a formal apology for Canadian residential schools, saying the “policy of assimilation was wrong,” and has had a “lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language.” In 2017 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau followed up with a specific apology to survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In her resignation letter, Beyak spoke of the value of freedom of expression and cast doubt on the constitutionality of an expulsion.
Noting the legislative highlights of her career, including work on Harper-era firearms legislation, Beyak said she will continue her work “to serve all Canadians - and especially those people whose voices often don't get heard,” outside of the Chamber.
Senators who spend six years in office are eligible for full pensions.
With files from The Canadian Press