Politics

Lynn Beyak says she isn't Métis as Senate begins debate on her suspension

Lynn Beyak said Wednesday she is not Métis and never claimed to be, despite a detailed report from her anti-racism trainer that documented her claims of Indigenous ancestry during Senate-mandated cultural sensitivity sessions.

According to her anti-racism trainer, Beyak 'consistently' said she was Métis during sensitivity coursework

Sen. Lynn Beyak waits for the Throne Speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Beyak is denying she ever claimed to be Métis. She issued a two-line statement today saying the media have reported that she is Métis but she says she has never been a member of the Indigenous nation. (Chris Wattie/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Sen. Lynn Beyak said Wednesday she is not Métis and never claimed to be, despite a detailed report from her anti-racism trainer that documented her claims of Indigenous ancestry during Senate-mandated cultural sensitivity sessions.

In a statement, Beyak disputed the findings of the report — a five-page accounting of her ill-fated time in the program — and said she does not consider herself a member of the Indigenous group.

"Métis are a great people but to be clear: I am not now, never was, and never will be Métis. I have never claimed to be Métis at any time, in any way, to any one, in my life," Beyak said.

The subject of her two-line statement to the media Wednesday was "Media is reporting I am Métis."

It was the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC), the place where Beyak attempted to complete anti-racism training, that first documented her ethnic identity claims in a report card prepared on Beyak for the Senate Ethics Officer.

Beyak 'consistently' referred to her 'Indigeneity': trainer

The trainer who prepared the report, Nicole Meawasige, said she and other members of the anti-racism session heard Beyak say she was Métis by virtue of her parents adopting an Indigenous child. The trainer said Beyak "consistently referred" to her Métis status and her "Indigeneity" during discussions about the place of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

"Beyak explained that her Métis identity resulted from her family's adoption of an Indigenous child [her adopted sister]," said Meawasige, the training co-ordinator at OFIFC. "The senator's understanding and presentation of her Métis identity were flagged as a concern by the trainers ... and by other participants."

Beyak was supposed to attend three days of Indigenous "cultural competency training." But trainers feared she would make little progress in understanding the plight of Indigenous peoples because of the dubious claims about her own ancestry.

She also made questionable comments about a First Nations man with "dirty hair" and a "grubby" appearance during her class work. She also said her Indigenous trainer looked "white privileged."

Ultimately, Beyak didn't make it past the first lesson because her "inflexibility and conduct made the learning environment unsafe," Meawasige said in her report. The senator was asked to leave the premises.

Beyak's statement Wednesday did not address the other concerns raised by Meawasige in her report.

Nicole Meawasige, the training co-ordinator at the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC), said in a report on Lynn Beyak's anti-racism training that Beyak 'consistently' identified as Métis. (LinkedIn)

CBC News asked Measwasige to comment on Beyak's latest statement denying any claims of Métis ancestry, but she declined to speak.

"The OFIFC is not making any public statements," Meawasige said in an email. "We submitted the information to the ethics committee as requested."

Asked if she stood by her version of events as documented in her October 2019 report on Beyak's training, Meawasige did not respond.

Last Friday, the Senate ethics committee recommended that Beyak be suspended a second time from the upper house because she failed to take her anti-racism training seriously and offered an insufficient apology after posting anti-Indigenous letters on her Senate website.

The Senate began debate on her suspension Tuesday.

Manitoba Independent Sen. Murray Sinclair, the chair of the Senate's ethics committee, said he is recommending another suspension "to afford her the opportunity to gain further perspective on the privilege of serving in the Senate and her obligations as a senator."

The committee said Beyak should take yet another anti-racism course, something Sinclair said "would be necessary for her continued presence in the Senate."

"The committee believes that further education and training is warranted in the hope that Sen. Beyak develop an awareness, recognition and understanding of the reality of racism toward Indigenous peoples," Sinclair said.

The committee is also recommending Beyak offer another apology — beyond the one-line statement she issued last fall — this time directing her apology at Indigenous peoples who were hurt by her comments praising the "well-intentioned" Indian residential school system and letters on her website that described First Nations as lazy and inept.

Beyak has been an unaffiliated senator after being kicked out of the Conservative caucus in January 2018.

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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