'She's made a fool of herself': Senator stands by residential school comments
Published Tuesday, March 28, 2017 10:53AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 28, 2017 8:07PM EDT
Despite growing calls for her resignation, a Conservative senator who argued that Canada’s notorious residential school system had some benefits says she stands by her comments.
Sen. Lynn Beyak, a member of the Senate’s standing committee on aboriginal people, is refusing to resign. She attended a committee meeting on Tuesday, even though some members have said they now feel uncomfortable working with her on indigenous issues.
During a speech in the upper chamber earlier this month, Beyak said the government-funded residential schools, where indigenous children suffered widespread physical and sexual abuse, were not all bad. She said negative stories about the schools are overshadowing the good things they accomplished, such as raising indigenous children as Christians.
The chairwoman of the Senate committee on aboriginal people, Lillian Eva Dyck, said Tuesday she’s “stunned” that Beyak continues to stand by her comments. Beyak also said in an interview that she doesn’t need any more education on residential schools because she too has “suffered” alongside survivors.
“After her latest comments, I’m really almost at a loss for words because they don’t make a lot of sense to me,” Dyck told reporters.
Dyck said she has received emails from people who are upset that Beyak is still on the aboriginal people committee, but she doesn’t think committee members have the power to remove her.
“It’s a very odd situation,” she said. “She’s really made a fool of herself in public…it’s close to April Fools’. This is like a bad April Fools’ joke.”
Activist Jesse Wente is among the chorus of voices calling for Beyak to give up her place on the committee. Others have called on her to resign from the Senate altogether.
Wente told CTV News Channel that Beyak’s upbeat take on residential schools is a “gross misrepresentation of history and in incredible disservice to survivors.” He said such characterizations harken back to an era when the injustices carried out by residential school organizers were broadly framed as necessary and beneficial to indigenous society.
“Remember those residential schools were in Ontario from 1840 to 1996, 156 years. For the vast majority of that time it was all about the positives, the benefits, how this helped indigenous people,” he said on Tuesday.
Wente feels Beyak’s remarks are particularly distasteful given the legacy of inequality left in the wake of Canada’s residential school that persists within indigenous communities today.
“The culture that created residential schools, the culture that allows Senator Beyak to think the way she has, and position it the way she has, is what still allows inequality to exist,” he said.
“People are still dying because of this inequality in Canada. It should be unacceptable for everyone, let alone a Senator, to really perpetuate these things.”
Senator Larry Smith, the newly elected leader of the Opposition and the Conservative caucus in the Senate, said he plans to meet with members of the standing committee on aboriginal people when he starts his new role next week.
“Once we get that perspective and we sit down and review the committee structure, which wouldn’t take too long, then we can make an informed decision,” he told CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday.
Smith called Beyak’s remarks “unfortunate,” and said he does not condone her opinion.
“We all recognize the dark history of the residential school period, and the impact that it had on the indigenous population,” he said. “Things that happened are unacceptable, but having said that, we are hopefully moving forward with the aboriginal community in a positive way.”
With files from The Canadian Press