OTTAWA — A coalition of First Nations chiefs and residential school survivors are rejecting new recommendations to lift Sen. Lynn Beyak’s suspension from the Senate.
They say her most recent anti-racism training undermines and disregards calls from Indigenous Peoples to remove Beyak from the upper chamber.
“For them to somehow come up with this finding that Lynn Beyak has been rehabilitated, she’s ready to resume her duties as a senator without speaking with any of the survivors, that we know of anyway, in the region, is an insult,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.
Fiddler represents dozens of First Nations communities in northern Ontario, the same area Beyak represents in the Senate.
Last week, the Senate ethics committee tabled a report recommending Beyak’s suspension be lifted now that she has taken anti-racism training and apologized for posting derogatory letters about Indigenous people on her website.
The committee says Beyak has acknowledged the wrongs of her past conduct and committed herself to improvement after taking a four-day virtual program to learn about Indigenous history and the role of the Senate in promoting minority rights.
The training program was conducted by a team of what the committee report describes as “experienced and qualified experts from the University of Manitoba,” engaged by the Senate ethics officer.
“Your committee was of the view that the qualifications of the experts would allow for a professional, impartial and informed evaluation to be provided to the committee upon the completion of the training,” the report says, also adding that the Senate ethics officer vetted and approved the training program, characterizing it as “sophisticated and elaborate.”
The work was led by Jonathan Black-Branch, dean of law at the university, who submitted a performance assessment of Beyak’s work with his team.
He determined that through the sessions Beyak was co-operative and willing to learn and that she “seems to accept ‘the need to refrain from acting in a way that could reflect adversely on the position of senator or on the institution of the Senate in respect of racism’ and understand her obligations in relation to racism as a senator.”
A coalition of chiefs from Ontario and Manitoba together with a group of residential school survivors has now penned a letter to Black-Branch, saying the education program given to the senator was an inappropriate process, as it offered no involvement or input from First Nations and residential-school survivors in Beyak’s home region of northwestern Ontario.
“It’s a top-down and paternalistic process,” said Danielle H. Morrison, an Anishinaabe lawyer who is a coalition spokesperson.
“Why is a university deemed more highly qualified and impartial than we are? All these institutions are really far removed from our own lived experiences, our own ways of learning, our knowledge-keepers and our own governance and justice systems. Those should be given priority and those are the voices and the systems that should be centred over an academic university.”
A request for comment made to Beyak’s lawyer was not immediately answered Thursday. A request to ethics committee chair Sen. Murray Sinclair for comment was also unsuccessful.
This is the second time Beyak has received anti-racism training after she was suspended by the Senate for refusing to take down the racist letters from her website, some of which suggested Indigenous people and their culture are inferior.
In February, the Senate ethics committee concluded she’d not gone far enough in her first attempt at education after she clashed with different training staff last year. They reported she was resistant to their efforts and also said she had claimed to be Metis because her parents adopted an Indigenous child.
Beyak denied making that claim.
Grand Chief Fiddler said Beyak has been given many opportunities over the last three years to hear and learn from residential school survivors the painful realities they faced and the harm that she caused by minimizing their experiences and using the situation to instead argue the merits of free speech.
He said he rejects the recommendations of the ”outside group” engaged by the Senate ethics officer to conduct her anti-racism training and questions why the residential school survivors in the territory she represents were not engaged in this work.
“They want to be heard. They want the country to validate their experience. They want the country to know about what happened to them,” Fiddler said.
“When you have someone like Lynn Beyak who posts racist material on her website to try to deny those painful experiences, that’s creating harm. That is going against everything that these survivors are telling us.”
The group of chiefs and survivors say they reject Beyak’s latest apology that was tabled last month — which they say was delivered to the Senate and not to the Indigenous people she represents — and they are calling on the Senate to reject the findings and recommendations of the ethics committee saying she should be reinstated.
They insist Beyak must resign.
“She needs to go. She’s created enough harm by her actions and there’s no place for someone like her in the Senate,” Fiddler said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2020.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press